Business

Cross-border shopping takes hit as loonie falls: Poll

The 10-cent drop in the value of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. greenback has started to reduce the appetite of Metro Vancouver shoppers for retail deals in the U.S., according to a new poll. - Black Press file photo
The 10-cent drop in the value of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. greenback has started to reduce the appetite of Metro Vancouver shoppers for retail deals in the U.S., according to a new poll.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

A new poll shows cross-border shoppers still nip across the line for deals but they're doing it less often because of the slide in the value of the loonie.

The online survey by Insights West found 61 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents drove across the border at least once in the past 12 months, down from 74 per cent reported in a similar poll a year ago.

Insights West president Steve Mossop said the findings also show the 10-cent slide in the Canadian dollar against the U.S. greenback – from US $1.01 a year ago to about 91 cents – is starting to have some impact.

The poll found 37 per cent of respondents expect they will drive to the U.S. less often due to the less favourable exchange rate, while 60 per cent said their cross-border shopping patterns won't change.

"The shine has worn off a little bit because of the dollar's impact," Mossop said, adding Lower Mainland residents are very aware of the exchange rate and its impact.

"The majority of people in Metro Vancouver are still taking trips across the border. It's still a massive number."

The B.C. Business Council has previously estimated about $1.3 billion a year is being drained from the Lower Mainland's retail economy by short-term cross-border spending.

Mossop thinks that outflow may be reduced by 15 to 20 per cent if the dollar holds at its current level.

The poll didn't try to gauge what currency exchange rate would prompt a halt to most cross-border shopping, but Mossop said some economists have speculated the loonie would have to fall to 85 or 83 cents against the U.S. dollar.

Twenty per cent of those polled said they've crossed the border less often in the past year, 12 per cent said more often and 68 per cent said it's about the same.

That's a shift from a year ago, when more respondents reported crossing more often.

The purchases topping the shopping lists of those headed south continue to be gas (89 per cent fuel up there), dining out (82 per cent), clothing/shoes/accessories (78 per cent), groceries (73 per cent), followed by accommodation, entertainment, electronics/computers, casino gambling and furniture.

Twenty four per cent of cross-border shoppers also have a U.S. mailbox across the line to pick up purchases they buy online, the survey found.

Cheaper flights also continue to draw B.C. residents south.

A quarter of Metro Vancouver residents polled crossed the border at least once in the last two years to fly out of a U.S. airport.

Lower U.S. prices compared to at home – whether it's for retail goods or airline flights – remains the key reason for cross-border shopping, according to a large majority of those surveyed, while better product selection or availability is secondary.

"There is a slight feeling of guilt," Mossop said. "Seventy per cent say they're aware it's hurting the local economy. But it's not stopping them."

The federal government committed in its latest budget to new action to punish retailers who charge unjustifiably high prices compared to the U.S., but there are few details yet of how that will work.

The survey of 810 Lower Mainland adults was conducted Feb. 4-5. For more poll detail see insightswest.com.

Mossop and other speakers, including Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman, will be discussing cross-border shopping impacts Wednesday in Vancouver at a luncheon forum hosted by Retail Advertising and Marketing Canada.

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