Amazon.ca drops free shipping for remote customers

This week Northern shoppers were taken by surprise when popular online retailer Amazon.ca ended free shipping to remote locations, citing "economic and shipping complexities."

'I refuse to pay over a hundred dollars for diapers,' says Nunavut shopper

The initial job post named Amazon several times, but was modified this week. (CBC)

Many Nunavut consumers have called the free shipping from Amazon.ca to remote communities 'too good to be true' and, according to the company, it now is. 

This week the popular online seller sent a letter to customers advising them that it would no longer offer the free shipping option to many communities because of "the economic and shipping complexities in remote locations."

"It's got to be expensive," says Arviat's Keith Collier. "It's well-known that shipping to places like Nunavut by air is quite expensive." 

But while he can understand the economic challenges for Amazon.ca, Collier is concerned about how the change will affect Nunavummiut who struggle to make ends meet and rely on the deep discounts a major retailer can provide.

As of this week, shipments to remote locations will come with a $29 flat fee for shipping plus additional charges of $22 per kilogram. 

"It's just too expensive," says Emelda Aupilardjuk.

Aupilardjuk says she began ordering diapers from Amazon last year because they were much cheaper than those sold in Rankin Inlet stores. But she says she's not prepared to pay an extra $140 per Amazon order.

"I refuse to pay over a hundred dollars for diapers that I know I can get for way less."

Northern prices for food, basic necessities skyhigh

With the cost of basic household items far higher in Nunavut communities than in southern Canada, Collier says many residents of his community have come to rely on the lower prices on Amazon.ca. 

"Amazon was one more option people had for getting food items and household items into their communities relatively cheaply," he says. "And now that option has been removed."

In many northern communities, there are a limited number of stores and, while the federal Nutrition North subsidy provides money to retailers for food, many necessities are not covered.

"People will be going to more local stores and prices there are sometimes higher," says Collier.  

"It's going to make a little bit tougher for people to stretch their incomes."

So what's considered remote?

It's still unclear which communities in Yukon, the N.W.T. and Nunavut are affected by the change. CBC requested a list of affected communities, but Amazon did not provide one, saying customers who have shipped to an address in a remote location will see personalized information and details about the shipping changes when they visit Amazon.ca.

On the company's website, remote locations are defined as having postal codes that are hard to serve, with three examples given:

  • Towns far from a shipper's hub

  • Towns that are infrequently served by shippers

  • Canada Post Air Stage Locations (where mail must be airlifted at certain times of the year)

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