Yukonomist: Making globalization work for you

Yukonomist Keith Halliday

A lot of newspaper columns have been written bemoaning the impact of globalization on workers and communities. You know the story: cutthroat competition, cheap goods being shipped ridiculous distances to undercut local shops, internet business models taking down well-known national companies.

These global megatrends can make you feel powerless, a feeling magnified as out-of-control inflation grinds into your wallet.

Adding insult to injury is the erosion of perks consumers got used to in the years before the pandemic: credit card points offering free air travel, cheap AirBNB accommodations instead of paying a big hotel chain, catching an Uber at a fraction of the cost of a taxi, or cutting the TV cable and switching to Netflix.

Now Netflix monthly fees are creeping higher and your family wants you to pay for more streaming services since the hot new shows are on other platforms. Uber prices have converged with taxis in many cities. Newspaper stories talk about AirBNB fees making the platform’s properties more expensive than hotels in some situations. And your credit card points are increasingly festooned with restrictions and fees.

So, until the revolution comes, what is a Yukon consumer to do?

Well, maybe you should try to beat global capitalism at its own game: find a new set of wallet-saving market hacks.

I’ve heard three stories lately of Yukoners prospecting new internet creeks to find better deals.

The first involves getting savvier about online shopping. Some people swear by clearing their browser cookies to appear as a new customer, or deliberately abandoning their carts until they get an email offering them $10 off to complete their purchase. But as an individual consumer it’s hard to tell which of these practices work and on which websites.

But one tool with hard data you can use is an Amazon price-tracker website, such as CamelCamelCamel. Suppose you are interested in buying a product on Amazon. You paste the weblink into CamelCamelCamel and the site will tell you the price history or let you sign up for alerts if the price drops below a certain level.

I recently bought a replacement HEPA air filter cartridge on Amazon. The regular price was $39.99 but, over the past year, the price has gone as low as $29.98. So if you don’t need a product right away, this kind of service can rack up some savings.

A second example involves getting out of your usual shopping habits. For example, I recently spotted a friend wearing a sharp new down jacket. It looked like just the thing for strolling around Whitehorse on a nice Fall day. Or for wearing around the house if your spouse has panicked at the price of the season’s first delivery of home-heating oil and turned down the thermostat.

He directed me to a French discount sportswear provider named Decathlon, which started expanding into Canada just before the pandemic. A down jacket from the brands I normally shop might cost hundreds of dollars. This one was on sale for just $50.

We don’t know why Decathlon wants to charge just $50 for a down jacket. Perhaps they are trying to break into the Canadian market using lower prices. If so, savvy shoppers will take advantage of their sales.

A third example involves joining the world’s multinational corporations in sourcing products directly from Chinese manufacturers. One friend buys electronic components from AliBaba.com, while another told a story about dry suits.

You can buy a men’s Kokatat Goretex drysuit for $1,665. Or you can buy a similar looking one direct from China on Alibaba for $250.

Of course, we don’t know how durable these cheap products will be. Perhaps the zipper will fail on the Decathlon jacket long before it accumulates a lot of duct tape patches. Or that Chinese drysuit may only last a season.

But they are cheap, and that is important for households where food prices are outpacing wage raises.

Of course, being an avid globalist consumer raises other issues. How many down jackets does one need? Don’t you want to help local retailers in your community? Do you know the working conditions in the factory where your cheap down jacket was stitched? What are the carbon emissions of buying two cheap drysuits instead of one quality one?

These are all fair questions. I value the advice I get at the local sporting goods shop when I buy skis and equipment. Many companies put considerable effort into sustainable and ethical sourcing. And I know for a fact that Kokatat dry suits actually keep you dry.

But budgets are tight these days and figuring out how to squeeze better deals out of global capitalism might be part of your response.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist, author of the Aurore of the Yukon youth adventure novels and co-host of the Klondike Gold Rush History podcast. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist.