The Best (and not-so-great) Online Shopping Destinations for Canadians

Canada, shopping,

This is a post that has taken me more than six months to research, test, write and publish. You see, it all started innocently enough. I was talking on my Instagram Stories about how I had just made a purchase with J.Crew and mentioned that I didn't get charged shipping or customs. It may seem like a small win to my American, United Kingdom and other readers out there in the big wide world.

That story struck a chord with Canadians. What followed was a lot of late night conversations with people all over Canada sharing the best places to shop online, and the places to down right avoid. In Canada, we have this lovely little thing to contend with - customs and taxes. In America if you buy something online, let's say a new sweater for $50, you are presented with your shipping fee and your tax. You pay that price and wait for the day you can wear your new sweater proudly. For Canadians, if we order from a website that does not end in .ca or explicitly states they are Canadian and ship from Canada, the moments between paying for the item and receiving it are filled with dread.

During that time, our Canadian government (or whoever, I have zero interest in researching this part) may or may not slap on a ludicrous amount of customs and duties. It's all about importing something that was not produced in North America and therefore is not protected under NAFTA. So you would think that you would be ok if you "buy American". It's protected under NAFTA, which according to the customs website you do not pay import charges on.

Wrong. There is another thing (could be another government agency, or it's the same one) called GST/HST where you might get dinged for that. And here's the really terrible part. Let's say you buy a $30 bracelet from a made in America company and you have to pay HST on it. That's $3.90. Then, they add a $10 handling fee, and charge you tax on the handling fee (I bloody well kid you not. This makes me want to scream!) Your $30 bracelet just cost you $45.20. Actually, it would be more than that because that first $30 needs to be converted on your credit card to Canadian and I'm pretty sure the credit card company gives you a bad exchange rate and charges you a fee to convert (at least my old credit card did. A few years ago I got an American credit card that I use exclusively for online shopping or when visiting the States.)

We Canadians approach online shopping quite skeptically. We turn into amateur sleuths, searching the website for their international shipping rates and customs information. The most disheartening moment is when you find a company that outright says they won't deliver to Canada. Yes, there are companies out there that have written off an entire nation because either they don't need our money or find shipping to our country confusing and troublesome. I recently talked with a company about why they don't ship to Canada. They told me that too many Canadian shoppers complained about the large customs charges and there just wasn't anything the company could do about it.

But all is not lost. There are some companies out there that fully embrace shipping to Canada and have been doing so successfully for years.

The reason that this blog post has taken so long is that I was testing out shopping with a few companies, with my own money, and I have a spending budget that has to be adhered to. I'd like to keep this blog post as a 'living document'. It's a term we use at my full-time job to mean that it's a reference guide that is updated as soon as new information is available. I am posting the below as my own personal guide and I invite you to share with me your story so that I can add it below.

If you have had a pleasant online shopping experience while living in Canada and want to help spread the word, please email me at and I'll add it below. Together we can make online shopping a breeze!

The Best Online Shopping for Canadians

J.Crew and J.Crew Factory - This is the shop that started this whole thing. They had a promotion where they offered free shipping and paid all customs fees for Canadians. It was the alert that popped up when I visited their page and because I was on the site to look at something specific, this alert really sealed the deal. When this promotion is not available, shipping to Canada is $9.95 US and they include all customs fees upon check out. You should not be charged anything on delivery (this is stated on their shipping information page).

There is one major downside to shopping online with J.Crew, not everything on the website will be available to Canadian shoppers. Last summer I was on the hunt for a pink stripe long sleeve. Something you'd think would be easy to find. Alas, it was not. I couldn't find one anywhere, until a Google search sent me to the J.Crew website. I was so excited and immediately started to add it to my cart, and that's when I was presented with a message that said this item was not available to be shipped to my area. So I could order the black, red, orange, blue, green and purple stripe shirt, but not pink. There was no reason provided and emails to their customer service line went unanswered. I've only come across this the one time, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

L.L. Bean - Bean Boots, Boat and Tote bags and backpacks. These are the three items I recommend to everyone that they need in their home and for their family. They're well made with a lifetime warranty on all three items and since they are all made in the USA, no customs or taxes for Canadians. Add to that free shipping and you can't go wrong. My boys were going through backpacks and lunch pails before the school year had even finished. Until I finally bought them from L.L. Bean. I bought a matching set, with monogramming of course, when my youngest was in the 5th grade. He's in high school now and still uses them every day.

If there will be a customs charge, this happens if the item is imported, they list the charge right at check out. Some of the sweaters I have bought had a customs charge but since I know the sweater will last me for many years to come, I wasn't all that concerned. And since there are no L.L.Bean stores in Canada (yet) this is the only way to go about getting your hands on some of their iconic items.

Banana Republic, Old Navy and The Gap - As long as you are on the .ca website, you will be fine. If you forget and end up on the .com site, it will redirect you back to the Canadian site, if that's how you'd like to shop. It's pretty foolproof. There is always a sale going on at these stores, so my advice is that if you want an item from here, wait until you have a coupon code or their special sale days (Banana Republic usually has a 40% off day mid-week) Free shipping is available after a certain dollar amount spent but if you need or want the item quickly, opt to pay the $8 shipping charge. Free shipping is 7-14 days and I have waited up to 21 days shopping with these three retailers (In my experience Old Navy is the worst offender). I try to buy most of my items with them in store but if I must order online (online has more availability for kids jeans) then I just pay for the expedited shipping.

Sephora - I placed an order (for this facial peel and this daily face cream) two weeks ago. It was my first time ordering from Sephora online. I love visiting in store because I learn so much from the sales associates but I'm at the point now where I know what is working best for my skin. I placed my order, and I was given a special online birthday gift (different then the one they give in store) and I was able to select three sample items, free. I am a sucker for samples! I got a cologne sample for my husband and two facial cream samples, both of which I absolutely loved and I'm considering getting them for the spring (one was Caudalie and the other Juice Beauty Anti-Wrinkle cream). My order was placed on Monday night and by Wednesday I was giving myself an evening facial. Couldn't ask for better service. - Amazon really is going to take over the world, aren't they? I'll admit I'm not on the Amazon bandwagon just yet. To be perfectly honest, I don't know what everyone is buying on there! But you know who is all over this? My kids. I am getting packages delivered weekly all coming from Amazon. The kids are ordering their video games, toys, clothing, you name it, they've bought it. Part of Amazon's sellers information is that they need to understand shipping and customs to Canada if they plan on selling to customers in our country. All taxes and duties must be paid upfront, at the time of your checkout. If you ever received a customs charge on an Amazon purchase, you are to contact their customer service department and work through that with them. I asked 10 people I know who use Amazon and not one of them have ever had a problem. - A little random but I bought some new artwork for my master bedroom last week (still need to buy a frame) and I was able to pay in Canadian and no additional charges.

Chapters/Indigo - It's not just books! Just before I left for my trip to Scotland I was on the hunt for a plain black scarf. I wanted something simple to go with my trench coat. I searched everywhere and couldn't find one and while placing an order for a few books to take with me, I spotted exactly what I wanted. I placed my order and everything arrived the next day. I kid you not! I don't know how they managed to do that, but I've placed a few orders with them and they are always here fast. With all the cute spring items out, it's going to be tough for me to stay off this site.

The Bay - Hudson's Bay, The Bay whatever you call Canada's iconic stripe retailer, this is your best bet for shopping for big brand name items without incurring any additional fees. Canada's department store carries everything from Ralph Lauren, to Uggs, to KitchenAid, and of course, the classic Bay stripe items. All Canadian pricing, free shipping after a certain dollar value (which I've always found to be rather quick) and no customs or surprise charges.

Simons - Simons is a Montreal based department store that recently added store in Ontario. Years ago I would visit Montreal on a weekly basis for work and all anyone back in the home office wanted to know was what new items they had at Simons. Montreal has always been known as a chic city filled with equally chic people and this is where they shop. Here you can find big name brands and designers and in-house exclusives. Just like The Bay, it's a Canadian store so there are no customs or fees to worry about. The only thing you need to worry about is not spending too much.

A few words of caution

Saks Fifth Avenue has a Canadian presence with stores in a few of our major cities. You can shop online and will be presented with Canadian pricing. There even is a promotion right now offering free shipping and duties charges but I urge you to watch out for that. There is no promo code as they state the charges will be removed. I tried purchasing an item and found I was being charges $23 in duties & taxes. The only discount I was being given was free shipping. I very quickly abandoned my purchase. Why would I or you, pay $23 duties on top of all the standard charges (cost of item, GST/HST) just for the privilege of shopping online? They have Canadian stores and when you shop in person they don't charge this additional tax. Always carefully review the final screen before placing your order.

Shopping small

I am a big believer in shopping small. There are so many clever and creative entrepreneurs out there, it's actually easier than ever before to shop small. But again we run into the shipping to Canada problem. Small shops are less likely than big retailers to understand the issues us Canadians can run into. My advice is to email the retailer if you would like to purchase something. If you both work together you can find a way to get an item shipped to you without any surprise costs.

Please feel free to leave some comments below as to where you have had great success as a Canadian shopping online!

1 comment

  1. Fantastic post!!! As a Canadian I often shy away from ordering online with new companies. Have you tried Boden? I order often from Lands' End, LLBean and Chapters and have never had any problems. The Bay I find iffy, sometimes during sales I have found the item I selected is not available. I find it frustrating that stores like Nordstom's and J. Crew that have stores in Canada still charge duties. Thank you for your research and please keep us updated!!