Buying stuff online in Canada?
March 1, 2005 8:24 PM   Subscribe

Calling all Canadians! My limited free and work time is being sucked up by really trivial purchasing problems. How does one efficiently shop online in Canada? More importantly, where?

I'm getting rather frustrated-- hoping someone can help. I have, over the years, become increasingly dependent on researching and shopping online (makes a busy life that much more simple). Now, having recently moved back to Canada (formerly in the States-- for essentially my whole life), I'm not having any luck finding online retailers (similar to and full-service or business service providers (i.e., telephony, office equipment, etc.) that have the same selection and service levels. I'm still in North America, for fuck's sake. It has to be better than this. Unbelievably bad-- borderline functionless. They'll sell you the vacuum cleaner, but you're on your own for the filters. (it's like Nordstrom up here, for you USian lurkers)-- NO HOME DELIVERY! Even my recent purchase (books/CDs/DVDs only up here, kids) came through Canada Post.

When I google, I try clicking on the 'pages from Canada' button. I've searched for 'online Canadian retailers'. Are these my only options?

Help me! I don't have the time (or the transportation) to get what I need. I don't want to have to order from the States-- I can't afford the duty for personal items, and most often at work I need items faster than customs would process them. Where do you go online when you need to buy stuff? I'm talking from multifunction copiers to toilet paper and cat litter-- any advice will help.

[NOTE: I ask this question as someone with two jobs and no time-- and in a really hectic work situation, I need to streamline. If this sounds at all like I'm complaining about the homeland, please understand that I *love* Canada and I'm thrilled (and lucky) to be here, but I'm having a rough "moved-to-another-country" transition week.]
posted by mireille to Shopping (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I hope it's okay if I tack on a rider asking about cheap Canadian online computer retailers in particular - the equivalent of a I know of, but they are not quite as good.
posted by Krrrlson at 8:45 PM on March 1, 2005

I've similarly been spoiled by convenient online shopping while I lived in the U.S.

I think the unfortunate answer is that our population just isn't large enough to support an that's equivilant to or etc., so it doesn't exist. I don't have any problem with getting things by Canada Post, but for most things you can't even get that.
posted by duck at 8:46 PM on March 1, 2005

Why is it suprising that your Amazon purchase came through Canada Post? CP Expedited Parcel is roughly the same service as UPS Ground.

In any case, Amazon's Canadian operations are actually entirely run by Canada Post. The web site is run in the US at the same place as the .com web site but Canada Post runs the warehouse, orders the stock, packs the boxes, etc.

Anyway, back to your question. Delivery tends to be less cost-efficient in Canada than the US (one tenth the population spread over twice the area), and even aside from that with a market one tenth the size the sellers are not getting the same volume discounts. So it just doesn't always make as much sense to sell or buy things this way in Canada.

Anyway, all the office supply chains (Grand & Toy, Staples / Business Depot, etc.) offer free delivery on orders over $50. The web sites generally suck but the paper catalogues are good you can order by phone. sells anything that a grocery store carries, plus they deliver for Home Depot (and the LCBO here in Ontario). For electronics there's or

Can you be more specific as to what else you need?
posted by winston at 8:51 PM on March 1, 2005

Try Tiger Direct for computer parts and some electronics. I've had good luck.

My wife and I use a grocery service called Pic'n'Del and it's been good for us. We both detest grocery shopping.

But common department store good and service just don't exist, at least not that I know of. (I would love it if started selling household goods; we buy lots from them as it is.)
posted by C.Batt at 9:25 PM on March 1, 2005

plus they deliver for Home Depot (and the LCBO here in Ontario)

Not anymore, since they were bought by Longos and got a lot crappier and more expensive.

I think winston is right in general with his assessment. I've also had trouble ordering things online. One thing I've found is that many "US delivery only" sites will ship to Canada if you call and ask nicely. Of course, the shipping is more expensive and you'll have to pay duty, so I suppose it depends on exactly what you're looking for. Alternatively, I'm sure there are services that will forward parcels across the border for you for a fee if you were to buy from and ship to a third party. Do you have any friends in the states that could do it for you? Are you close to a border crossing and can you set up your own PO box or arrangement with a US post office?
posted by loquax at 9:32 PM on March 1, 2005

Response by poster: I hope it's okay if I tack on a rider
Please, I'd love if this were a pile-on--I don't care what they say in MeTa. I'd like to think we (Canadians) could all benefit.

I've similarly been spoiled
Thanks-- that's how I usually the recognize the source of my frustrations, but it's been a rough day. That's totally it, though. I just think these things exist somewhere up here, or at least are imminent. And I want to be where they are.

Why is it surprising that your Amazon purchase came through Canada Post?
Okay, full disclosure. I don't really dislike Canada Post. It's just that my interaction with FedEx today was the only one (of MANY-- in weeks!) that was efficient and productive, and it made me remember that getting stuff done isn't completely out of the question. Can you sense that there's a long litany of complaints behind this frustration? I'm not being unreasonable, I assure you. I was just yearning a bit for the former days (please note I do not call them 'good old days'.)

Can you be more specific as to what else you need?
That grocery link is a great start. I could use some sort of Target-like resource for home needs (and basic office stuff). I could also use some recommendations for computer-related stuff that isn't FutureShop (OT-- but for some reason, I thought BestBuy was merging with/buying them out?) I need recommendations on travel sites. I know which ones are out there, I think, but I would love to hear which ones are good and solidly cater to Canadian travellers/bill-payers-- for example, by giving me the complete-with-taxes-prices so I can accurately compare before getting twenty pages deep into the site. By letting me pay with Canadian credit cards. I would love to know of a site that sells all the little kitchen stuff that Amazon carries, for example. I need to source a multi-line expandable phone system (corded + cordless + can add more later) for the office, but googling nets me a bunch of small companies I know nothing about, and we're not yet ready for Nortel. When my recently-acquired (from across the border) stockpile of cat litter runs out, I want to have more delivered, as I'd like the convenience and affordability of buying in bulk, but have no car to get to the big box stores. Some sort of BedBath&Beyond site (so I can make sure I'm getting the best deal at the Target-like site). Other control sites for the same reason-- comparison-shopping. Those kinds of things. Totally varied, and I'm sure there will be new ones tomorrow (hence the open-ended nature of the original question-- sorry!).

On preview: loquax-- yeah, all of my family and friends would certainly do it, but I just can't seem to mentally accept the additional cost and worse, the delay (after all, I'm still part-Yank). I'm thinking I might just have to get over that. Still, any advice is welcome... and thanks for all the responses thus far!
posted by mireille at 9:52 PM on March 1, 2005

To answer Krrrlson's question about computer stuff online, try They're cheap and have very good service. Not that I've tried tigerdirect or newegg.
posted by Emanuel at 9:55 PM on March 1, 2005

If you are interested in bath products Lush has a good online store, but I would recommend waiting until they have shipping specials before ordering anything.

If you happen to have an aquarium then the Mail Order Pet Supplies site is pretty good. I have ordered from them before.

Other than that, it looks like most of the other stores I know of have been covered.
posted by mystic cheezewhiz at 9:58 PM on March 1, 2005

I've become a bit of an online shopping addict since moving to Banff (a.k.a. land of overpriced tourist crap).

For air travel, I like to check out to see who has the cheapest ticket price, but then go to that airline's site to buy the actual ticket (to avoid the $10 additional fee Travelocity charges on top of the flight cost). And I've found good hotel deals on

I have ordered contact lenses from (American) in the past with relatively little hassle.

Other places I haven't ordered from but that do offer online shopping include Radio Shack and Canadian Tire. The latter might be a good bet for general household items and even some kitchen stuff.

For electronics, I second the NCIX recommendation, especially since your profile says you're in Vancouver and so are they so it'd be fast shipping.

For groceries, it looks like there are at least three options in Vancouver. I haven't tried any of these but here they are:
Organics at Home

Check out the online deals sites Red Flag Deals and GoldFishLegs for more ideas (and free discount coupons!).
posted by sanitycheck at 10:45 PM on March 1, 2005

Response by poster: These are great links, everyone, and precisely the types of things I'm seeking-- thanks! GoldFishLegs seems like a great site in particular, sanitycheck.
posted by mireille at 10:54 PM on March 1, 2005

For music - scratch and
posted by Quartermass at 11:50 PM on March 1, 2005

Response by poster: For music - scratch and ...?

(Feel free to keep them coming, everyone-- I'll take everything I can get!)
posted by mireille at 12:20 AM on March 2, 2005

Along with the geography and population issues already mentioned, Canadians are cheap!.

My theory is that this makes Red Flag Deals and Pricenetwork great resources, but it also makes business ventures less profitable. Basically, I think, in the U.S. people are more likely to "just buy it". Thus U.S. online retailers have to have better deals to attract customers, but they stand a better chance of making money anyway. Ten times more competition and ten times more volume helps too, of course.

Here is a guide that will help you deal with shipping to Canada from the U.S. (you have to read down a couple of paragraphs).
posted by Chuckles at 12:22 AM on March 2, 2005

Seem to recall an article talking about this and the gist was, we don't shop online as much as americans do - we're more paranoid about privacy but we are slowly coming around which may be why your having such a hard time finding retailers up here.

Since someone mentioned UPS - you might want to avoid using UPS from the USA to Canada, they love to add brokerage fees to the shipping cost on everything they ship here and they are quite notorious for it (a camera I bought recently which was duty free had an extra $25 tacked on in brokerage fees, for instance).

Futureshop I've found to be more expensive than and prefer the latter. Plus they have a far larger selection than futureshop could ever hope to have. An alternative to BedBath&Beyond would probably be Linen 'n' Things. There is also Ikea which has started delivering again.
posted by squeak at 12:23 AM on March 2, 2005

What part of Canada are you in, mireille? You might have to try some paper catalogue phone order places to get your needs met here. The variety and quality of options available to you will directly relate to where in the Great White North you live. If you're smack in the middle of the prairies like I am, you'll be very hard-pressed to find these kind of services without paying a major premium for the boutique-like service. If you're in a major metropolitan area like southern Ontario or Vancouver, you'll have a lot more options.
posted by raedyn at 6:44 AM on March 2, 2005

re: Best Buy & Future Shop

Best Buy bought Future Shop but they're not converting the FS stores. Future Shop stores are too small for the Best Buy format.
posted by winston at 8:41 AM on March 2, 2005

I don't shop online much but for a few things: books, CDs and DVDs (the only places where I live to buy these things are HMV and Future Shop), and computer stuff.

For books, cds, and dvds, I just hit up For the computer stuff it is usually Tigerdirect. I also buy some blanks discs and things from Media 'n' More and BlankMedia.
posted by synecdoche at 8:41 AM on March 2, 2005 lets you earn Air Miles on your purchases -- though most of the sites are in the US (There's a Canadian Stores link in the side menu)
posted by winston at 8:41 AM on March 2, 2005

I've heard only bad things about Tiger Direct. Read the RedFlagDeals threads for customer experiences.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:26 AM on March 2, 2005

OK, maybe I'm missing something, but if you're looking for the experience that just doesn't provide, is there some reason you're not simply ordering from Canadian credit card, Canadian address, non-CanadaPost shipping... and no problems. I know I'd rather deal with an all-Canadian outfit, but I also know from experience that pales in every possible way compared to its Big Brother.

Check your favourite US online retailer. It's likely they ship no problem to Canada.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 10:28 AM on March 2, 2005

I feel your pain. Personally I love for the stuff they do carry and they are almost always offering free shipping even to other people.

I've ordered from a couple of times with out ever a problem. Even there though they only have 50% of the selection of is the place for woodworking supplies and gardening stuff. Based in Canada they also have a presence in the US. Rob Lee, the owner, is a fairly active member of many woodworking forums and has lectured a few times on the difference between American and Canadian internet shopping. According to him Canadians are much more desitination shoppers. IE: Canadians are willing (may even prefer) to buy 10 different items at stores that specialize in those items where as an American would rather pull up *cough* Amazon *cough* and get everything at that one place. though US based has good shipping to Canada and they handle their own brokerage so you don't get bent over by FedEx/UPS.

It's worth it to open a business account with OfficeDepot/Grand&Toy if you do much office supply ordering.

I've started tracking Canadian internet shopping places in; look for the tags shopping+Canadian

GhostintheMachine: Check your favourite US online retailer. It's likely they ship no problem to Canada.
The problem is a surprising number either won't and those that do often will only ship via FedEx or UPS which means you end up paying $70 in brokerage for a $100 item (or even a $10 item).
posted by Mitheral at 12:23 PM on March 2, 2005

Mitheral: That's odd... I've bought books, CDs, DVDs, and other assorted crap from US eRetailers without a brokerage fee, ever. Are certain categories of goods exempt from those fees, or have I just been damned lucky?
posted by GhostintheMachine at 7:11 AM on March 3, 2005

Brokerage fees are fees from the courier (UPS, FedEx, etc.) and not from customs.

If you did not pay brokerage fees, it's because the seller has their own customs broker rather than using the courier's.
posted by winston at 12:00 PM on March 3, 2005

To be a bit more specific, that bill with the brokerage fees will also include any taxes/duties that the broker has paid to customs on your behalf (in addition to the brokerage fees), but the brokerage fee itself is charged even if customs has no interest in the parcel. The only way around it is if either the sender or recipient has their own customs broker.

For express (overnight) shipments, the brokerage fee is usually included in the amount charged to the sender. Otherwise, it's charged to the recipient.

UPS currently charges the recipient $35 CAD in brokerage fees (plus the taxes/duties, if any).

FedEx has a sliding scale based on the value of the parcel. The one time I encountered this, it was $7.50 for an item with a value between $50 and $70.
posted by winston at 12:06 PM on March 3, 2005

Late to this party, but I wanted to put in a word for for CD shopping. Although the flash interface is a PITA, they're friendly, ship quickly, and are pretty cheap. I used to live in Vancouver and loved shopping in-person at Scratch. But after moving across the country I tried placing orders from several times and at least 50% of the items listed on their site were never in stock or out of print.
posted by Gortuk at 9:02 AM on March 9, 2005

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