4 Very Annoying Canadian Business Practices

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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?!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Martin Penwald on

    Note that curiously, no company advocates a charity to help pedophiles in prison (I’m thinking here of that http://maitremo.fr/dependez-les-pointeurs/ ), which is as valid, on a social point of view, than helping children in hospital. But it is probably not as good for a PR campaign, I guess.
    The thing is that basically, the customer gives the money, but it is the company who gets taxes break and the credit for it. It is ethically debatable.

    • I love Maître Mô. Missed that one, thanks for the link. Yeah… probably wouldn’t be a popular charity… but again, since customers don’t even have the chance to pause and consider the charity before giving at the cash register, who knows!

  2. Great post, I agree with every single point made! I’ll add another one that really annoys me and that is the tipping culture in North America, I just cannot get used to this one. In Europe, the tip is truly optional and certainly NOT expected by default, however in Canada I noticed it is almost ‘mandatory’ to include min. 15% tip on top of what you’re already paying? This makes no sense to me, much like the tax that is not included with prices.
    I believe we Europeans are just used to knowing the full/final price of everything, tax included and all, and are very willing to tip as long as the service is great and the tip is OPTIONAL.

    • The tipping culture annoys me. I am very used to it when it comes to the food industry and I accept it, but I still don’t see why I am expected to tip a stylist, a massage therapist, etc. They don’t work minimum-wage job. And Canada, unlike the US, has a liveable minimum wage (which isn’t great, I agree, but that’s another debate).

      • Martin Penwald on

        Yeah, I hate tipping. But in some states (not in Canada), tipped workers can have an hourly rate of less than $3. It is a pretty disgusting practice, but it is difficult to override.

        • I know! I can’t believe the US gets away with this. Oh wait… I can.

          I guess what I was trying to say is that while you can argue that it’s difficult to live on minimum wage in Canada, it’s still much higher (and fairer) than in the US. Therefor, I don’t think the tipping culture should be as… strong in Canada. But hey, who is going to say “no, I don’t want a tip”?

          • Martin Penwald on

            And at least in Québec, tipped workers are taxed on the amount of the tips, even if they don’t earn tips.
            But on a bright note, the evil-socialo-communists-babies’eaters-kittens’rapists of the Albertan NDP planned to rise the minimum wage at $15/hour for all workers, and somewhat discourage tipping (I don’t remember the way it was presented, but it is something like that).

  3. The tax thing is the same in the US. But it would be impossible to change as sales tax is different in each county. The state sets a minimum and then the county can add on to that. So my home town is one tax, the town right next door is in a different county, so the tax is different. On top of that, in some states, there’s no sales tax on clothes and the like. It really varies! There’s no tax on store bought food (at least not where I’m from and I think that’s fairly standard. But there is tax on all beverages.

    • WHAT??? Seriously? I knew (well, I assumed) that each state has its own tax, but county?! Man, that’s really complicated. Do you like it better in France where the “TVA” is included? Or did you think it was a ripoff?

      • Growing up in the US, I never questioned the system. And it’s so ingrained in us that it doesn’t bother me. It is nice just paying what is marked in France. But at the same time, when you’re buying especially expensive items (like a computer), if it weren’t for the 20% VAT, it would cost only a little more than in the US.

  4. The only time that the VAT being included in the final price really annoyed me was when the French governement changed the VAT rate from 19,6% to 7% for restaurant meals … and the prices were kept the same for customers.

  5. We do find people with these gym bags on buses, almost everyday.

    On somewhat similar lines we really had a tough time getting some balance protection insurance from our credit cards, they don’t give up easy, do they? In fact the insurance itself was forcefully sold to begin with, I was not so energetic so I gave in but this time I called in with determination and politeness to spare, it went like:
    Agent tells me “all the wonderful policies”
    Me, all exited, “Really, that sounds brilliant”
    Agent “So, should we keep it”
    Me “Oh no, sorry, I don’t need it”
    Agent “tells more benefits”
    Me “Wow, that is unbelievable”
    Agent “So should we keep it”
    Me “No no, really thank you, I did read the pamphlet, it’s in front of me, I don’t really need it”

    Trust me this went for a while, I do respect the agent for their persistence and I empathize, I have worked customer service, but it does get annoying, as a business practice.

    Nice observations

    • Oh yes… happened to me a few times, my bank always tries to get me to sign up for a “free trial”. I always decline because I KNOW I will forget to cancel it (which is exactly what they are betting on).

  6. Just my first week in Canada and OH YES i hate hate hate that the tax get’s added at the end. So confusing and downright cheeky. Also what makes me so annoyed – bank fees – limits on transactions – fees for just tranfering money between your very own accounts ?! SERIOUSLY CANADA?

    • Oh, bank fees are tricky but you shouldn’t have to pay for transferring money from one account to another. You need to find a better deal!

      Welcome to Canada 🙂

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