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Mon, Oct 15, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Canadians face currency woes in US

BARGAIN HUNTINGThe Consumers' Association of Canada has warned people heading to the US to shop to check merchants' exchange rates before they buy


Armed with the strongest dollar in three decades, Canadian shoppers have been flocking south of the border in search of the best bargains on everything from clothes to books to booze.

But a Canadian consumer group has a warning: Watch which currency you are plunking down for deals in the US.

Bruce Cran, president of the Ottawa-based Consumers' Association of Canada, said that since the two currencies hit parity, he has been getting calls and e-mails from across the country about US merchants whose exchange rates are all over the map.

In Bellingham, Washington, one store recently offered a rate of only US$0.75 on the Canadian dollar. At another shop in Buffalo, New York, a Canadian dollar was worth just US$0.60, Cran said.

"It's morally reprehensible, but an informed consumer shouldn't even shop there," Cran said.

During last year's Thanksgiving weekend in Fargo, North Dakota, sporting goods retailer Scheels was among those taking Canadian money at par. Others, like Target, were close, giving US$0.93 for a Canadian dollar. But at Gordmans, a discount clothing store chain, the Canadian currency was only worth US$0.75 -- the exchange rate last in effect in August 2004, according to the Bank of Canada's Web site.

"I think I would've turned around on my heels," said Jeanette Shewchuk, a Canadian who spent part of the Thanksgiving weekend searching for bargains in North Dakota.

"It should reflect the markets. It's not fair," she said.

Unfortunately, Cran says, there is not much stopping retailers from charging whatever rate they like.

"It is buyer beware," he said.

Cran's advice: Change your money at a Canadian bank before you cross the border.

That is exactly what Adrienne Ross of Vernon, British Columbia, did for a shopping weekend in Seattle. She picked up her US funds before making the seven-hour drive south.

"I usually don't do it, because I don't like having that much cash on me," Ross, 27, said.

This time, she decided to get American currency for a few reasons. Ross did not want to pay the fee charged by credit card companies to convert currencies, and she wanted to avoid a repeat of past experiences with stores flatly refusing to accept Canadian money.

Local business groups are noticing that, too.

David Martin, the head of the Fargo-Moorhead Chamber of Commerce, sounded apologetic about some businesses in his city -- about a two-hour drive from the Canada-US border -- that have trouble with Canadian cash.

Martin pointed out that some retailers, especially smaller ones, are not equipped to handle other currencies. Still, through its Web site and newsletters, the chamber encourages local businesses to accept Canadian money at the bank's exchange rate.

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