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Canada & USA Free Trade
Consumer Thoughts After Buying a Casio EX-Z850 Digital Camera
The population of the United States is roughly ten times that of Canada. It's no surprise then, that the U.S. has a much more efficient consumer marketplace than Canada. I recently discovered just how much more efficient, after purchasing a Casio EX-Z850 digital camera.
Firstly, I should state that I have no great patriotic allegiance when it comes to making consumer purchases. "Made in the U.S.A.", Canada, China, Taiwan or Mexico, I don't really care. All things being equal, I will buy local, to support the local economy, but in truth, I'm after the best quality/price ratio I can find, with a leaning toward one end of the spectrum or the other, depending on the product. I mean no disrespect to either the U.S. or Canada, as I think both are great. Rather, my experience reflects a growing dissatisfaction over the disparity in pricing, availability, shipping costs, regulations and red tape associated with purchasing products to obtain the best deal.
The EX-Z850 is very new to the marketplace. It was debuted at the PMA Annual Convention & Trade Show in Orlando, Florida, on February 26th (press release). I was happy to get my hands on one at a price well below the MSRP of $399.99(USD), but the convolutions I had to go through, in order to accomplish this, underscores the marketplace differences between Canada and the U.S. This is something that NAFTA is supposed to help fix, but it doesn't really seem to be working too well.
Read on to learn about my purchase choices in Canada, versus the United States and the creative methods employed to obtain the better deal.
New Camera Needed
Our existing digital camera, an HP-735, was purchased two years ago. It has served it's purpose, but it has a number of annoyances that precipitated a new purchase: It's not pocket-sized (unless you're wearing cargo pants), it chews through batteries faster than a cow through cud, the two-second shutter delay has caught Alex a number of times, just AFTER we wanted to and you might as well forget accessing anything on the menu for 2 minutes after taking a photo, for that's how long the camera seems to be pre-occupied with writing the image file. The camera freaks out too, from time-to-time, as the menu goes blank, after turning it on, and we have to cycle the on/off switch to get it to behave. Besides, when we're cycling, it would be nice to have two cameras, as we're often separated by a mile or so and whatever opportunity for photo taking is lost, if you're not the one with the camera.
So much for our justifications.
The new Casio EX-Z850, despite having nearly 3X the mega-pixel capability as our HP-735, is tiny. (I'll post a photo comparison, after it arrives). According to Mike Davidson it's the size of an Altoids tin. It has a dedicated battery that provides hundreds of photos on a single charge. Shutter lag is "imperceptible". I'm not certain about the write time, but a medieval scribe could probably write faster than the HP camera, so I'm willing to take my chances.
Initial Low Price Investigations
The first place I turn to, when looking for the lowest price on an item that I know I'll purchase, is the Internet. This camera was no exception. Once I had identified the Casio EX-Z850 as the camera I wanted to buy, I visited a couple of shopping bots, to find the best deal.
I'm not a shopping bot guru, but I have seen "BizRate" and recognized it. I gave it a try, typing in "EX-Z850" into the "I'm shopping for [ ]" space. Up came approximately 26 comparisons, ranging in price from $312 to $399 (USD). Prestige Camera came up as the lowest price (at the time $312 - though I suspect that it will only go down from there). I noted that they were a U.S. company and jotted down the price. THIS was my target.
In Canada, purchasing products from the United States has its inherent problems.
First is shipping. It doesn't matter if you live in the outback of Borneo, or the suburbs of Toronto, as far as a U.S. company is concerned, you're "International". To my way of thinking, there's a huge difference. Shipping a package to Borneo requires several plane trips, customs inspections and ultimately, locals have to strap the thing onto the back of buses, water buffalo, bicycles or mopeds, just to get it to its destination. In Canada, there's a simple exchange at the contiguous border and the package then travels pretty much as it did before, only in a slightly different colored mail carrier. However, as far as cost is concerned, Zimbabwe or Vancouver, it doesn't matter. I noted that the International shipping cost from one low-cost camera provider was $99 (USD), fully 1/3 of the cost of the camera!
Second, is import duties. Now I don't know exactly HOW these duties are calculated, I just know that I've been on the receiving end of some pretty innocuous packages and had to pay a whole heck of a lot more than I was thinking I should.
A case in point. Rachel will kill me for telling you this story, but it's germane to my argument. I have a Paul Revere cook set that I brought with me from the States. It's a nice set, but they're not sold in Canada. When Rachel accidentally fried a pot (She put veggies on a steamer tray, but forgot to fill the pot with water. She turned the element on HIGH, only to return and smell 'something burning'. After throwing cold water into the flaming red-hot pot ... it looked the worse for wear, as the bottom was discolored, warped and the aluminum disk at the bottom, had melted). We located a replacement on eBay, for $20 (USD), but shipping was another $18 (USD) and to add insult to injury, we had to pay another $10 (CAD), at the door, for import duties. Our $20 replacement pot was now a $50+ replacement pot, thanks to shipping and import fees.
The Canadian Comparison
To avoid extra shipping fees, import duties and to buy through the Canadian economy, I figured that I would 'buy Canadian'. I called several of the Canadian consumer electronics retail outlets - Staples, Best Buy, Future Shop, London Drugs and Walmart. Most didn't carry ANY Casio digital cameras, let alone the new, EX-Z850 camera. One did - London Drugs. They're a great store and it didn't surprise me that they carried Casio AND that they had this new model for sale. What DID surprise me, was the price - $499 (CAD). Ouch.
Having exhausted the retail outlets, I turn my attention to the Internet. Trying to identify Canadian-only websites is tough. If one goes to www.google.ca, there's a radio button for "Canadian Only" web pages. It doesn't work. It invariably turns up U.S. sites as well. But, I gave it a go anyways.
I see now that the Future Shop now has this camera, but it didn't at the time I was looking for it. I also see that The Source has one for sale now, but again, it wasn't available when I was looking. At the time, the ONLY Canadian camera store that was selling the EX-Z850 was Henry's. Regardless, even now, their prices are ALL identical - $499.99 (CAD).
So, in Canada, the availability was less and the price was substantially more. [For those that don't know $499.99 (CAD) is roughly equivalent to $436 (USD)] All things considered, the camera cost in the U.S. was ($312) ... fully 28% less expensive.
I bought the camera for my parents as a gift. They're coming to visit later this month. I'm hoping that they'll forget to take the camera, when they leave!
If I had simply followed a straight-forward path and paid $99 (USD) for shipping and suffered through who-knows-how-much in import fees, one might argue (correctly) that it would have been less expensive to buy the one at my local London Drug Store. BUT, because I'm from the U.S. to begin with, I have allies there (my parents).
So, I concocted a new plan. I would ship within the U.S., to another U.S. destination. This cut the shipping fees from $99 to $25 (which I still thought was a tad steep, especially considering that they advertised $15 shipping fees on the shopping bot I used). I was so jazzed to get the camera, that I didn't question it. There was no State sales tax, as I was shipping from N.Y. to California (where there would have been a 7.25% National sales tax, had I bought it from my local London Drug Store).
Total cost to Scott for the gift? $312(USD) + $25(USD) shipping = $337 (USD). Had I purchased it and then shipped it up? $312(USD) + $99(USD) shipping + $???(USD) import fees = $411+ (USD). Had I bought it locally? $499.99(CAD) = $436(USD) + 7.25% National Sales Tax ($37 CAD) = approximately $468 (USD). Hmmm. Which do you think is the better deal?
I've saved $100+ USD on a $337 USD purchase, nearly a third, by being "creative". It's just too bad that one must play these games, in order to get the best deal. Shouldn't the border be more open? Isn't NAFTA supposed to allow for help in this regard? While I would have preferred to purchase locally, I'm all for getting the best deal, even if it means that I get it for my parents, instead of myself.