Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tips for Black Friday Shopping Week

Black Friday Shopping Scene
(Photo Credit: csmonitor,com)
With the US Thanksgiving day just around the corner, two words or their related cousins, dominate the minds of many people: "Shopping deals," "Black Friday," "Great bargains," and so on. With the Canadian dollar slightly stronger than the US greenback, many Canadians have been flooding major states down South. For us on the West Coast, Washington state is a favourite shopping haunt. From Bellingham to Burlington, from Tulalip to Seattle, Canadians are able to find the best outlets and malls, and buy lots of stuff. In general, there are a lot of things cheaper not just in terms of the exchange rate, things are cheaper simply because of the difference in economic markers, and of course the dreaded government taxes. British Columbia imposes a 12% HST on consumer goods (apart from certain groceries). Washington taxes are less. Another thing that makes a huge difference is gas prices. Canadians filling up gas down South will usually save about 25-35% per fill up. The savings in dollars have resulted in unhappiness.

Increasingly, there has been unhappiness among some of our friends in the US who subsequently complain about Canadians lack of manners, holding up gas lines, and crowding them out of their own shopping joints. I can understand. Just like people who live near schools have to contend with inconsiderate drivers parking their cars outside their houses, our neighbours down in Bellingham have to put up with additional traffic, the lack of parking spaces, and longer wait times for gas. When people are in a rush to get things done, neighbourliness gets put to the test.

Some Canadians have complained that they have become the target of nasty notes telling them not to shop in Bellingham. Despite the jump in businesses for US retail shops because of the Canadian shopper, some people in Bellingham are jumping up and down in disapproval, telling Canadians to return to their own country to shop. I can understand their frustration. At the same time, I can also understand the mentality of the Canadian shopper. After all, two things stand out. The strength of the Canadian currency and the lower prices of basic goods and services in the US.

The main reason why things are much more expensive in Canada is because of taxes. That said, it is also true that as long as Canadians spend more money outside of Canada, they are not helping Canada in the long run. The purpose of taxes is basically to help the Canadian economy and its wide range of national policies, from social welfare to public services, from education to infrastructure, from government assistance to employment services.

Let me try to provide five tips for Canadian shoppers who simply feel they HAD to go down South to do their shopping.

#1 - Be Considerate Through Self-Limits

When filling up gas, if you see a line behind you, just gas up your car and go. Forget about gerry bins and whatever containers in your car. Each time you fill up a bin apart from your car, as far as the drivers behind you are concerned, it is like having another car cutting into your lane when you are queueing up to pump gas. Be considerate when you are at the gas pump. With the holiday season coming, there will be more cars, more people, and less patience and goodwill from people. Don't hoard stuff simply because it is cheap. Saving a couple of bucks and sacrificing a load of goodwill from our neighbours is definitely not worth it. It may be cheap in the short run, but over the long run, it can be really expensive. Limit our buying, and when we see long queues, be considerate. Maybe, this is a time to help others by patronising the less popular stores during this time.

#2 - Remember that We are Guests

As guests, it is also important to remember common courtesy, and not to insist we have the right to this or that. We may have a stronger currency, but that does not mean that we have a right to "demand" that we be served in certain ways. At all times, remember that we are guests, and like guests, learn to ask rather than assume things. Very often, humble asking can unlock the goodness and the willingness of locals to embrace our presence with open hearts. Sometimes, I talk to the cashier at the tills, chatting them up, asking about their daily lives. They open up so willingly and we connect well. I can say for sure that people in Bellingham are very much people like you and I. They are very friendly and when we observe our place as guests, they are often more than happy to welcome us and to give us very special treatment. I have known Americans to be very friendly and welcoming. All it takes is for us to remember that we are guests, and they are hosts who have the rights to their local amenities too, if not, more than we do.

#3 - Be Neighbourly

This means we learn to observe basic courtesy everywhere we go. Do not rush and barge into parking spaces when you see a waiting car that was there before us. Do not drive so dangerously to beat the traffic. Do not keep your car engine idling away at the back or frontyard of some private houses. Respect the privacy of the neighbourhood and be respectful of the people you see, regardless of how they may treat you. This also means that we refrain from any tit-for-tat behaviour. Being a good neighbour means learning to put on our best selves even when we encounter unreasonable people. It does not mean we get bullied or whatever. It means we maintain a decent neighbourliness when in a foreign land.

#4 - Look Beyond Dollars and Cents

Good deals are not necessarily limited to dollars and cents. For example, is it worth it to drive an additional hundred miles to save a few dollars of the same item? Is it worth it to queue up for half an hour to fill up at a Costco gas station, burning up gas and using up precious time, for the sake of a few cents per litre? What about good customer service over cheap prices? Maybe, the holiday season is a time not just to make the big box companies rich. The small mom-and-pop stores need holiday goodwill too. Often, we can get more personalized attention from the owners, instead of mere employees who treat their work as merely their job. Looking beyond monetary savings also mean we learn to shop wisely. Maybe, some of the best deals are not based on what discounts are offered, but a clear knowledge of what we really need or don't need.

In a culture of consumerism, we are increasingly led to believe that more is good, and cheaper is better.  That is not the case. What is the point of buying a third TV simply because it is cheaper? What about giving that money away for a needy cause? What about time? It takes more time to drive across the border to buy the very same things we can buy in our local stores.

#5 - Shop Local

Where possible, shop local. This not only keeps our local industry thriving, but also a sense of building neighbourhood in our communities. Canada is already known to be a land of plenty. When we shop local, we are also exercising our responsibility as residents to support our local economy. Money that has been taxed goes to help the country in general. Every dollar spent elsewhere is a dollar lost to the local economy. Not only that, during peak holiday times, it is important to remember that when we shop in another country, we may become a hindrance in some way to other shoppers trying to buy stuff in their own neighbourhood. How will you like to buy a jug of milk and wait three or four times as long to pay for them, when people from outside your town are hogging your local grocery store? Worse, what if we want to buy bread and there is no more bread that morning! On the one hand, we can blame the retailers for poor planing of their inventory. On the other hand, when it comes to basic food items, can we just shop local?

Remember. A good deal with dollars and cents is secondary. A better deal is to be neighbourly both in foreign territory as well as local communities.


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