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4 Very Annoying Canadian Business Practices

Canada Cookies, Ottawa, September 2015
Canada Cookies, Ottawa, September 2015

Consumer spending is almost a virtue here—you are reigniting the engine of economic growth!

And businesses sure make shopping easy. Armed with a credit or debit card, some cash and a giant cart with greasy handles, you can buy whatever you need, whenever you need it. Extended shopping hours, helpful employees, rewards and discounts will make any shopping trip a true pleasure.

Spend, now.

Or not.

I’m a grumpy French and a few business practices really annoy me—these four in particular.

The store credit card pitch

“And how would you like to pay?”

“Debit, please.”

“Would you like to apply for our reward credit card?”

“No, thank you.”

“It gives you a 0.005% discount for every $1,000 you spend in store between October 3 and October 4.”

“No thanks.”

“And you get a $5 bonus for signing up today.”

“I’m not interested.”

“All you need to do is to fill out the application, provide all your personal information and sign with your blood. It only takes a second.”


“Yes, of course. Would you like to use your credit card reward for your purchase today?”

Granted, most employees are not that persistent, but I hate the way most big-box stores cram their credit card offer down your throat. These store cards are usually a bad deal: the rewards suck, the sign-up bonus is a joke, interest rates are hideously high and every application counts against your credit score.

I don’t begrudge salespeople for asking once—they are pressured to make the pitch. Management often set a certain application quota to meet, tied to a bonus or even the scheduled working hours. But this is a shitty situation for both the employee and the customer—management, get the clue!

Note that if a customer gives in, the application is filled out right away at the cash register, holding the lineup for everybody else.

Worst offenders: Sears, The Bay, Walmart

Hidden costs and hidden prices

A few years ago, I wanted to join a gym again. Since everybody seemed to carry around Goodlife Fitness bags, I checked it out online. Surprise: the membership fees were not mentioned on the website. The next day, I stopped by the nearest franchise to inquire in person. Little did I know I fell into the trap.

When I explained I may be interested to join and that I wanted to know the monthly fees, I was invited to tour the facilities. Fine. Then I had to sit down with a salesperon who started to ask me a bunch of personal questions, none of them related to fitness. Where was I working? How far was I to a franchise? Did I have any friends interested to join?

At this point, I knew I was going to run away (eh, that’s a form of exercise, right?) and never come back. But since I was there, I pressed the salesperson for the membership price. I could never get a straight answer. Bonuses, rebates, special-end-in-the-next-minute offers…

I vowed to never sign up with a gym who needs to interview you before giving you a price. Be upfront with your fees!

Worst offenders: Gyms, most telco companies

Checkout charity

“Your total is $12.45, would you like to donate a dollar for [insert charity here]?”

This line is very common. Big-box stores seem to take turns to participate in various campaigns, raising money for animal welfare, the blinds, disabled children, the troops, veterans, etc. There is no shortage of worthy causes and no shortage of charities here, and I admit shamefully that this is a pet peeve of mine—being constantly solicited.

And I hate checkout charity. I’m standing here, bagging bananas and yogurts. I don’t have the chance to learn about the charity or the campaign, the employee expect a “yes” or “no” answer. I’m being put on the spot and yes, I feel bad saying that no, I don’t want to round up my purchase to save a child or buy a paper ribbon for a wounded veteran.

It’s manipulative. I’m sure it works.

But I don’t believe in giving this way. First, it makes companies look caring and generous, even if it comes on the backs of customers. I don’t get a tax deduction (not that I ever claim one, but still) but the store may take a tax write-off on the collections. I don’t know where the money is going. Some charities do a great job while others spend their budget on overhead. I can only guess what the charity is trying to accomplish based on a colourful flyer pinned at the register—smiling children, happy pets and so on. I don’t want to give under pressure and without doing my homework. My donation funds are also limited, I can’t give a dollar every time I grab a loaf of bread.

“Not today, thank you.”

What? I don’t care. It means exactly that. I’m not giving money today, I’ll give to a charity I believe in on my own time, thank you very much.

Worst offenders: Most large supermarkets, bonus when you are solicited at the register and when entering the store by a different charity.

Taxes extra

I know I’m fighting a lost battle here, but even after over a decade in Canada, I still resent the fact that sales taxes are never included in the displayed or advertised prices. I can never prepare the exact change for my purchase and I never know which items are taxed. For instance, according to the Canada Revenue Agency, “basic groceries” are zero-rated items. Is bread “basic grocery”? How about yogurts? Chocolate? Fruits?

Take a look at the relevant Canada Revenue Agency Memorandum, and picture the group of executive brainstorming on this baby:

Some beverages contain a combination of both fruit and vegetable juices and may be considered fruit-flavoured beverages or fruit juice beverages. Where this is the case, only the fruit juice content is taken into consideration when determining whether the 25% by volume threshold has been met. If the product is not considered to be a fruit juice beverage or a fruit-flavoured beverage, it will be zero-rated provided it is not excluded from zero-rating by another paragraph.”


The CRA will consider the manner in which the beverage is packaged, marketed and promoted to determine the tax status. For example, the supply of tomato and vegetable juices in 540 mL sealed cans (i.e., cans without built-in opening devices) is zero-rated even though the volume is under 600 mL. Tomato and vegetable juices supplied in these quantities and in this type of container are not marketed and promoted as single servings.

Oh… and there is an entire section dedicated to whether ice is taxable or not.

Only in Canada?!

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