Holiday season is fast approaching, and with it comes one of the largest yearly consumer seasons. In an annual survey by Bank of Montreal, the average Canadian family was found to spend over $1,800 dollars each holiday season on gifts and more. And as this annual spend continues to rise, up 12 per cent from 2012, it has become more common for families to make a trip over the border in search for a bargain.
This casual routine of cross border shopping has become a habit for all Canadians that find themselves nestled next to American borders. It is this blind custom in the shopping community that the 1 Less Trip initiative hopes to change. By educating the community on the impact of spending money outside of the Niagara Region, 1 Less Trip hopes to show consumers the kind of positive influence they can have on their own community and job market by making one less shopping excursion across the border.
“Shoppers are powerful individuals; they spend their hard earned dollars on retail activities,” said Kithio Mwanzia, Interim Chief Executive Officer at the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce. “About two years ago the Erie County Budget Officer reported that some four hundred million dollars in tax revenue was derived from cross border shopping to the Buffalo area. That is four hundred million dollars that could have an impact on the community locally. This is why we educate; it is a way to let people know that their decisions are important and small actions can yield big results.”
This cross-border shopping is negatively damaging Niagara’s future, with more and more consumers overlooking the benefit of spending their shopping dollars in their own community. 1 Less Trip breaks the numbers down to an easily consumable fashion: one dollar spent at a locally owned business will return five times the amount within the community in the form of increased job opportunities, employees’ wages, and purchases of supplies from other local businesses.
“Making one less trip means that you are investing in local businesses that are owned by people who live in this community and who are more invested in the community’s future,” said Mwanzia.
“The average spend of someone that goes cross border is approximately 75 dollars. Surveys say individuals make approximately four trips a year; then looking at the 16 per cent increase in cross border shopping trending from about two years ago, we were saying that if you made one less trip, you would be keeping about 126 million dollars in the Niagara community.”
126 million dollars that Mwanzia says could go to funding new health care initiatives, educational systems and growing employment opportunities. And with youth unemployment resting at a whopping 15 per cent in the region, the need to expand the job market is of up-most importance for maintaining a healthy and thriving community.
“35 per cent of Niagara’s economy is somehow tied to tourism and leisure and retail,” said Mwanzia. “That is about 55 thousand jobs tied to that sector. A lot of people get their start in leisure, tourism or retail as a first job and now retailers are saying ‘Well, I don’t know if I can hire this summer because I am not sure if I will be able to manage the cross border challenge’. That is 55 thousand jobs that are impacted in one fashion or another when someone decides to make a change in their spending and leisure habits.”
But the consumer search for a bargain is still a challenge plaguing 1 Less Trip – and it only became worse following the cross border shopping amendment to the Federal Budget of 2012 which allowed for Canadians to increase their retailing purchases to up to $800 dollars following a 24 hour trip over the border.
“There is a perceived value associated with going cross border,” said Mwanzia. “We saw about a 16 per cent increase in cross border shopping following the Federal Budget of 2012. It changed the dynamic. And if you are shopping for a full day there is a good chance you’re going to stop and eat and what that does on the hospitality spend is quite significant.”
Though these shopping habits will take time to change, 1 Less Trip is hopeful that with their easily consumable information, support from municipal, regional and provincial political partners and retail associates within the community that the mindsets will change and improve in Niagara’s favour.
“Retail decisions that are entrenched take time to change course,” said Mwanzia. “For years and years and years people have made retail decisions where they are going cross border. Changing this is not something people will do immediately. But once they get the time to really focus in on the facts and the figures that is when change happens.”
“This is why we make our information very easily digestible. We say this is what it means. A lot of people are engaged with this and talking about it and that is what [1 Less Trip] was meant to do; it was meant to, at the very least, make people rethink their purchasing decisions and say ‘You know, instead of going cross border for dinner once a month, perhaps this month we will go out to dinner here’. It is those types of impulse decisions by retail consumers that are now becoming more informed decisions.”
Though 1 Less Trip hopes residents will start making more conscientious buying decisions, they are not discouraging trips into our neighbouring country all together.
“This is not about ‘Don’t go cross border’,” said Mwanzia. “Frankly there has been a great culture established with the cross border community. A lot of people spend time in Western New York for leisure and we have developed really great relationships with the business communities. So this was really not about stopping people from traveling across the border, this was about balancing out the retail spending habits that one has.”
“This is why we talked about one less trip – one fewer time that you are going there, what you would spend there, spend here.”
If you would like to join the over 400 individuals who have pledged to make 1 Less Trip, visit 1lesstrip.ca.