Running Shoes Prices in Canada versus the United States: Why Canucks Pay More

I am Canadian, living in Canada.  And I have a problem.  I like running and I like to buy running shoes.  Lots of them.

A recent survey of “runners” (run an average of 3.7 times per week) showed that they spend on average $300 per year on running shoes – three pairs at $99 each.

I am not the only one with a running shoe fetish!

A recent BMO Nesbitt Burns report indicated that running shoes are 36% cheaper in the U.S.! 36%.  I know that many different types of items are more expensive in Canada, but as the report points out, the price differential for running shoes is unusually high.

I like a good deal just as much as everyone else, but I especially don’t like paying more than I need to.  I also love my country and want to support Canadian retailers when possible.  So I am torn.

While my running shoe collection pales in comparison to say, Pete Larson’s over at Runblogger – I do own my fair share.

Because I have been running for quite some time, I typically stick with the shoe that works for me – the Mizuno Wave Rider. I know how it fits, feels and how long it will last.  Since my wife I and moved back to Canada from the UK two years ago, I have been buying most of my running shoes from Running Warehouse (U.S. based).  They have a massive collection and the prices are usually lower (even at times, with shipping and duties charges) than what I can find locally here in Toronto.  To make it even sweeter, Runblogger readers can use coupon code RUNBLOG10 to receive 10% off.

Sure I could buy from a Canadian online running shoe retailer, but the selection is usually not as good.  Generally, Canada has not embraced online shopping like the U.S. and many countries in Europe.  High shipping costs seem to be a deterrent for some.

The odd time I have even purchased a running shoe that I have never tried when they have been deeply discounted by Running Warehouse.  For example, I bought the INOV-8 Road-X Lite 155 back in February for $92.89 USD (including $30 shipping!).  I could not even find this shoe in Canada, let alone find it for cheaper – even with $30 in shipping costs!  As for duty charges at the border, it seems like it’s 50-50 that I get charged.

So, watch for those sales and don’t be afraid to pick up last year’s model on the cheap.  Running shoes do not change that much each year – something I have noticed in buying 6 different models on the Mizuno Wave Rider.

Why do I like shopping for running shoes south of the border?

Even if the price is the same as what I could find here in Toronto, buying online saves me a trip to the store. You may ask, “But what about trying the shoe on to ensure it fits”?  If you’re buying the same brand as before, this is usually not an issue. If you are trying a new brand, I have a solution for you, which I will touch upon later.

While I prefer to shop for running shoes online (I have better things to do with my time than shop), I do appreciate the one-on-one interaction with knowledgeable sales staff at a running store.  It’s nice to get their feedback on a particular shoe, how it fits or to find out firsthand, what’s popular right now.

In the runner’s survey mentioned above, it indicated that:

  • 49% of runners like to purchase running shoes form a specialty running store.  The main reasons – product and running knowledge of the customer service rep.
  • 32% of runners purchase their running shoes online.  Price, selection and convenience are the primary reasons for running shoe sourcing online.

For me, it boils down to:

  • Better selection; and
  • Cheaper prices.

Why are running shoes (and other retail products) so much more expensive in Canada?

Firstly, I am not an economist or a politician.  I am simply commenting from my own personal shopping experiences and as an owner of an online store (Foot Forward Training Systems), based in Canada.

We’re different countries with different currencies, but 36% is a huge difference.

  • The large discrepancy in the cost of running shoes in Canada versus the U.S. has no doubt widened (along with the price tags for almost anything for the matter) with the at-par or near-par loonie.
  • High import tariffs must be lowered by the government to help level the playing field.  It appears that the high tariffs are currently backfiring from their original intention of protecting Canadian production.  Taxes and duties get added to the  costs  of goods  from suppliers and distributors.  All Canadian retailers are encouraged to place a greater amount of pressure on the Canadian Government to review its import duties.
  • With the recently increased duty exempti0ns, Canadians may take even more trips across the border to take advantage of cheaper prices.

I was recently featured in CBC News – The National on the topic of running shoe prices.  Check out the video below.

Even Zappos, probably the largest online shoe retailer in the world, couldn’t “make-a-go-of-it” in Canada.  They tried.

Here is a letter they wrote to Canadian customers back in 2011.

Below is the message explaining why the canada.zappos.com site was discontinued.

Hey, everyone. While we often have fun things to talk about in this space, we sometimes have less pleasant topics to share.

We have made the difficult decision to shut down the canada.zappos.com site and stop shipping to Canada. One of our core values is to “deliver WOW through service”. That means the best selection of brands and products that can meet just about every individual’s needs as well as fast, free shipping and free returns, all at competitive pricing. Our Canadian customers know that we have not lived up to these service levels.

Product selection on canada.zappos.com is limited due to distribution agreements with the brands we sell in the United States. In addition, we have struggled with general uncertainty and unpredictability of delivering orders to our Canadian customers given customs and other logistics constraints.

We would like to thank our loyal Canadian customers and are sorry that we will not be able to serve you in the same way. Beginning April 1, 2011, we will no longer ship orders from canada.zappos.com. Some of you may have electronic certificates with open balances. If that is the case, please be sure to redeem them prior to April 1, 2011. Of course, we will still be able to accept orders originating from Canada and shipping to US addresses. Customers can always reach us 24/7 by calling 1-800-927-7671 or emailing cs@zappos.com.

Thank you for reading this. While you may not like our decision, we hope you understand the reasons.

Chris Nielsen
CFO/COO
Zappos.com, Inc.

I can see both side of the story.  I am Canadian and want to support local Canadian companies. It’s important for our economy, innovation and our communities.  But at the end of the day, money talks.  If I can save 36% (or more) on a pair of running shoes, I am not going to ignore my potential savings there.

Obviously, there is no quick solution for Canadians to obtain cheaper prices on running shoes.  Personally, I would rather support Canadian running shoe stores and the local economy.  My decision however, is made difficult with the huge price difference.

In an attempt to help us Canadians and support Canadian running shoe companies, I approached a good’ol Canadian running shoe company, Running Free, to see if they could help.  Not only did they provide some insight on the Canada/U.S. retail price differential, they provided a 10% off coupon.  See below for the details.

Canadian Runners – support your local running shop or one of these Canadian options:

  1. Running Free – use coupon code EXTRA10H for 10% all purchases until December 31, 2012.  Twitter: @running_free
  2. Running Room – huge respect for this company and its founder, John Stanton.  Twitter: @runningroom
  3. Frontrunners – in my hometown of Victoria, BC (had to give them a shout-out).  A bricks-and-mortar store with amazing customer service and involvement in the local running community.  Twitter: @FrontrunnersVic

U.S. Runners (and price conscious Canadians):

I know many of my readers are U.S. based. Well for you (and Canadians should the lower prices entice you enough), here are a couple of great online running shoe options for you:

  1. Running Warehouse – offers an amazing selection, great deals, free shipping in the U.S. and 10% off using coupon code RUNBLOG10Twitter: @runwiththehouse
  2. Road Runner Sports – again, a massive selection, free U.S. shipping (flat rate shipping cost to Canada is $35.50 – prices can still be cheaper with shipping / duty costs).  Their VIP membership (just $1.99) gives you 10% off everything and a 90-day trial period to ensure you love the shoes.  Twitter: @RRSports

…but I am afraid of buying the wrong size online

Yes, size does matter.

I had the same issue.  I wanted to try the Inov-8 Road-X 155, but had never tried a pair of Inov-8 running shoes on before.

Enter Shoefitr.

Shoefitr is an online tool for help determine what size running show to order online.   As an example, check out the graphic below.  I interviewed one of the co-founders of Shoefitr a few months back – click here to check out the interview.

This is invaluable information. If you currently wear a size 9 New Balance 883 and ordered a size 9 Asics Kayano 15, you would be extremely disappointed.  It’s a pain in the ass to return a pair of shoes to the retailer – I don’t care if they pay for the return shipping costs or not!

Here is how to determine what size running shoe to buy in a new brand:

1.  Go to the Running Warehouse website.

2.  Find the shoe you would like to purchase.

3.  Click on the Shoefitr tab.

4.  Follow the prompts and VOILA – you know what size to purchase! Problem solved.

Your thoughts?

Where do you like to buy your running shoes from?

What factors influence your purchasing decisions – price, supporting the local economy/community, convenience?

I would love to hear your comments below!


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About Mark Kennedy

Husband. Dad. Former Kinesiologist working in finance industry. Blogging on Healthynomics. Running and biking in Toronto and beyond. Follow Mark on Google+.

  • http://predawnrunner.com Greg Strosaker

    Great post Mark – I guess I’m shocked that duties play such a role. I was thinking that due to NAFTA such duties should not exist, but then it occurred to me that most of the shoes are probably imported from China – are there high duties on Chinese goods?  And is there any shoe manufacturing in Canada to protect?
    By the way, I don’t know if you saw Pete’s announcement a few weeks ago that Running Warehouse now offers 90 days money back no questions asked.  Though I imagine if you have to cover the shipping costs on the return, then this is still a tidy sum.
    There was a recent article on on of The Economist’s blogs about the price discrepancies on airfares between the US and Canada; I didn’t realize the problem was so widespread across an array of goods.  Of course, the last time I traveled to Toronto for personal reasons and paid attention to prices, it was something like 1.3 loonies to the dollar.

    • Mark Kennedy

      Thanks Greg. The Bata Shoe Company and Aldo are a couple of big Canadian shoe companies, but they’re not in the running shoe space. Maybe one day! I am not sure on the costs of importing from China, but I assume it’s not cheap. I’ll look into that. Let me know the next time you’re in Toronto!

    • Mark Kennedy

      Greg, to add to this conversation – I was featured on the Canadian national news (CBC The National) yesterday talking about running shoe prices. Here is a link to the video. You’ll need to forward to the 41:40 mark to watch the piece. Enjoy!

      http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/TV+Shows/The+National/ID/2279066531/

  • Lynda Johnson

    I would love to order from Running Warehouse but they won’t ship Asics across the border.

    • http://www.healthynomics.com Mark Kennedy

      Hi Lynda. Ah, that’s too bad! I don’t think they ship Nike’s as well. Maybe try Road Runner Sports.

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