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Dropshipping: Why those online deals are usually too good to be true

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When Sean Virsunen of Collingwood, Ont., was looking for an aquarium heater recently, he did what a lot of Canadians do: He shopped around online to find the best price.

He eventually found the item he thought would suit his needs on Walmart.ca for a great price — $15.97 Cdn. “I knew it was going to be something really cheap,” he says, “but I thought it could be worth it.”

A few weeks later, the item had yet to arrive, so Virsunen sent off an email to Walmart.ca to inquire about the delay. 

“Their response, in a nutshell, was that it was sold by a third party, we have nothing to do with this, you need to contact them,” Virtsunen recalls.

That was surprising to him, since he had ordered the item on Walmart.ca and didn’t notice anything about the product not actually coming from them. But sure enough, when a package arrived some time later, it was from a company called Zest Mall Inc.

Dropshipping started as a way for retailers to supplement their own offerings online, but has devolved into online businesses with no products of their own selling straight from manufacturers. (Aleksey Novikov/Shutterstock)

It looked vaguely like the product he had ordered, but it came with foreign writing on the box. It also had European-style electric plugs, so it was wired to work on a 220-volt system — not the 120-volt system used throughout North America.

Virsunen contacted the company to complain, and after receiving numerous emails offering him a discount on his next purchase, he grew frustrated and insisted on a full refund. The company said it would do that if he could ship the item to an address in California — something that would have cost more than twice what he paid for it in the first place.

He complained to Walmart again, and they eventually said they would refund his money if he returned the item to a store. 

“We expect our sellers to honour their return policies,” Walmart Canada told CBC in an email. “However if a customer is not able to receive a refund that is allowed under the policy, they can escalate their refund request to Walmart.”

While Virsunen thinks he will eventually get his money back, the experience was an eye-opening one for him, and his first foray into the murky world of something called “dropshipping.”

Representatives of Zest Mall Inc. did not respond to multiple CBC requests for comment. But their business has the hallmarks of a practice where third-party companies known as dropshippers sell products to consumers directly from the manufacturer, without the need for a physical store of their own.

A murky world of retail

Traditional retailers sell products to domestic consumers that are often made by foreign manufacturers. Retailers make money by marking up the price to cover their costs — rent for the store, salary for employees, warehouses to store the stuff and the technology to process payments.

In dropshipping arrangements, goods go directly from the manufacturer to the consumer without the added costs of the retail side. (CBC)

Dropshipping cuts all of those costs down drastically, because it circumvents or outsources most of those tasks. The dropshipper sets up a web store that’s often little more than a photo catalogue of available items, and ships the item directly to the customer from the factory.

In some cases, dropshippers don’t even have their own web store, selling their wares on the web portals of established retailers like Walmart, Amazon or Home Depot.

Payment processing is usually handled by an outside party, too. Canadian tech company Shopify is a big booster of the practice, via its app called Oberlo. Shopify says 85 million products have been sold through Oberlo. 

It didn’t used to be that way.

“In the past, retailers would engage in a dropshipping arrangement for purely logistical purposes,” says Mark Cohen, the former head of Sears Canada, who now teaches business at Columbia University in New York.

In Cohen’s day, a brick-and-mortar retailer like Sears would partner with a foreign supplier to dropship “large bulky products it didn’t want to stock on its own shelves that it could more efficiently simply arrange to have shipped directly from point of origin.” It worked well for big-ticket items like appliances, many of which are made outside North America to begin with.

But the rise of online shopping has turned dropshipping into something quite different, as consumers demand better deals and expanding selection.

“Consumers don’t care where the goods are coming from,” Cohen says. “They see it, they want it, they buy it, they expect to get it.”

More and more, that suspiciously cheap item online is coming to a consumer from a dropshipper “without the retailer they engaged having anything to do with the handling of it,” Cohen says. “And they don’t really care as long as everything is as promised.”

‘Selling really cheap stuff’

Problems arise when it isn’t.

A worker assembles ornaments at factory Xitanon village in the outskirts of Wenzhou, China. Dropshipping allows online stores to sell imported products at deeply discounted prices because they ship directly from foreign manufacturers. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

Andrew Youderian runs an ecommerce consultancy and community called eCommerceFuel, but between 2008 and 2016, he ran several dropshipping businesses that collectively netted more than $1 million in annual sales.

Back in his day, he says dropshipping was a viable business plan for real-world entrepreneurs who wanted to offer more products without having to take on the risk of adding expensive inventory that has to be stored, and may not sell quickly.

“Six or seven years ago,” he says, dropshippers like him “worked with reputable suppliers and legitimate businesses.”

Now, he says a lot of the industry has just devolved to mean “people selling really cheap stuff directly from the factory to consumers.”

Amazon’s journey to becoming an online colossus played a big part in the evolution of dropshipping, first by making it harder for their real-world competitors to sell stuff themselves online, and now by working closely with third-party sellers. Some of them are legitimate retailers, but many are just dropshippers with no products or stores of their own.

As Virsunen puts it, “[Amazon] used to compete with them, but now they’re letting them on their platform.”

“If your whole strategy is trying to resell someone else’s products … it’s really hard to out-hustle Amazon,” Youderian says, which is part of why he got out of the business entirely.

But not everyone thinks the same way. One of the ways that dropshippers now get noticed is by advertising on social media feeds to try and nab bargain-hungry browsers. Once you click buy, you’re bombarded by even more ads for products, since dropshippers know you’re open to buying them.

Consumer-focused chat forums are replete with countless stories of consumers angry about being sold shoddy merchandise based on ads targeting them in their social media feeds.

“A bogus manufacturer creates a picture and body copy describing this wonderful product they’re going to make available for an incredibly low price, and the consumer opts to buy it,” is how Cohen describes the process. “Then, when they get [the item], they get a package full of sawdust.”

“They complain and discover the retailer that sold them the box of rocks is gone,” he says, “doing business under a different name.” 

In the past, consumers trusted that retailers were screening the items they were selling, Cohen says. “If they viewed the product as shoddy or substandard or not living up to its claims, they would typically reject it.” 

Prices that are too good to be true are a hallmark of the dropshipping process, as items often take a long time to arrive, are of suspect quality and are very hard to return. (Pete Evans/CBC)

That’s not happening as much any more, which is why Virsunen says he feels duped. 

“It’s kind of false advertising,” Virsunen says of his experience. He says he’s unlikely to buy on Walmart’s Canadian website again, despite the fact that Walmart said they will give him his money back.

“I ordered something off a Canadian website, I was expecting something that would at least work in Canada,” he says. “Who are these people [and] how are they allowed to just willy-nilly sell stuff?”

In an email to CBC News, Walmart said all third-party sellers it works with are “carefully vetted and reviewed before being invited to join Walmart’s marketplace community to ensure our customers receive the quality and service they deserve.”

But Zest Mall’s page on Walmart’s official marketplace sellers list is littered with poor reviews that are reminiscent of Virsunen’s experience.

Walmart says it makes it very clear on its website if any available product is being sold by a third party, as such items will have a “sold and shipped by” line next to their products. Walmart adds that customers can return any item from a third party to a Walmart store, “subject to the return policy of the marketplace seller.”

Virsunen says that’s not good enough.

Cohen says bad experiences with suspicious-looking deals online are a good reminder of the age-old retail advice: buyer beware.

“It’s like caveat emptor on steroids,” he says. “You took your chances, it seemed too good to be true and it was too good to be true.”

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Majority of Canadian workers willing to take less pay for a workplace pension plan: survey

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A majority (70 per cent) of Canadians say they’re willing to forgo a higher salary in exchange for a workplace pension plan, according to a new survey for the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan by Abacus Data.

The survey, which polled more than 2,000 Canadian adults in April, signals an opportunity for employers to build back the post-coronavirus pandemic working landscape better by expanding access to good retirement plans — whether they’re defined benefit, defined contribution or group registered retirement savings plans, says Steven McCormick, senior vice-president of plan operations at the HOOPP.

According to the survey, a secure retirement remains of greater concern for Canadians than concerns about their health, debt load and job security. McCormick says this has been a consistent worry the HOOPP has seen in survey results over the past couple of years. Nearly half (48 per cent) of respondents said they’re very concerned about having enough money in retirement, while 31 per cent were highly concerned about their personal debt load and 26 per cent cited their job security. Close to half of respondents expressed high concerns for their physical (43 per cent) and mental (40 per cent) health.

In addition, the pandemic has harmed the finances of more than half (52 per cent) of Canadians’ surveyed and it’s had a particularly disproportionate affect on the finances of younger adults. Adults aged 44 and younger said they’re twice as likely (25 per cent) to have had their finances greatly harmed, compared to those over the age of 60 (12 per cent).

Generally, younger adults tend to work in roles that may have been impacted most by the pandemic, says McCormick, whether in service industries that were shut down or frontline health care that have been busy but don’t always come with access to a pension plan. “Affordability is an issue, so I think their worries increased during this time.”

And while almost half (46 per cent) of Canadians surveyed said they’ve saved more money than they would have since the onset of the pandemic, among these respondents, over half (52 per cent) didn’t put any of their savings toward their retirement. Overall, most (63 per cent) Canadians surveyed haven’t set aside or saved anything for retirement in the past year, a five-point increase since 2019.

McCormick says this may be due to uncertainty or hesitancy about whether people’s immediate needs outweigh longer-term needs. And with 55 per cent of respondents noting they were very concerned about the cost of day-to-day living, he adds that rising prices have fuelled insecurity and worries so people are creating their own emergency funds right now.

While there’s a segment of the population who’ve saved more and, for them, the pandemic has created wealth, he doesn’t see this as a common narrative in the survey data. “If you don’t have access to a workplace pension or the opportunity to have things like automatic enrolment, the uncertainty of the time may have you holding onto money,” says McCormick. “In Ontario, we’re more optimistic about the pandemic than we were maybe a month ago, but there are still people worrying about whether there’ll be a fourth wave.”

In addition, more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of respondents said a retirement crisis is looming and 65 per cent said saving for retirement is prohibitively expensive. It’s a common and shared dream for many people in looking forward to a secure retirement, says McCormick, noting for many, making that dream a reality remains elusive.

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What Canadians need to know about moving to the U.S. for more affordable real estate

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Like many real estate markets around the world, U.S. home prices have run up during the pandemic to the point of some saying it’s in bubble territory.

But the whole time and for years before, Canada has said “hold my beer” as prices rocket through the stratosphere in a number of major markets.

The discrepancy really jumps off the page in comparisons of the most recent benchmark prices and household income. As the chart below from Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments, comparing Canada to the U.S. shows, a picture paints a thousand words, especially when it’s presented as an exploding gif.

Jessy BainsThu., June 24, 2021, 6:43 p.m.·9 min read

A U.S. flag decorates a for-sale sign at a home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, August 21, 2012. President Barack Obama said on Monday the U.S. housing market was
Home prices have run up in the U.S. but are mostly more affordable than major Canadian markets.(REUTERS)

Like many real estate markets around the world, U.S. home prices have run up during the pandemic to the point of some saying it’s in bubble territory.

But the whole time and for years before, Canada has said “hold my beer” as prices rocket through the stratosphere in a number of major markets.

The discrepancy really jumps off the page in comparisons of the most recent benchmark prices and household income. As the chart below from Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments, comparing Canada to the U.S. shows, a picture paints a thousand words, especially when it’s presented as an exploding gif.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1388165660598063104&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

The situation has gotten so bad for first-time buyers that many may have given up. Ontario is home to markets with the biggest recent run-ups. A survey by Right at Home Realty found 74 per cent of younger Ontarians aged 18 to 34 say they may never be able to afford a home where they currently live.

Michelle Makos, broker-owner at Royal Heritage Realty, sells real estate for a living but doesn’t like what she’s seeing, especially after a conversation with her recently engaged daughter who wants to buy a first home.

“She made a comment that they may have to move to the United States to find something they can afford and truly I would hate to lose my children simply because they feel like the housing situation here is out of their reach,” Makos told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“Being in real estate, it just made me realize, the one thing I love doing is the one thing that could cost me my daughter, if she were to leave.”

So she took to Twitter to see if other Canadians were feeling the same way as her daughter. She conducted a Twitter poll that showed many were in the same boat.

She was flooded with messages from frustrated Canadians who were seriously considering leaving the country because of high home prices and shared many of them on Twitter. She eventually put a selection of the messages she received in a handy document for everyone to see.

Jessy BainsThu., June 24, 2021, 6:43 p.m.·9 min read

A U.S. flag decorates a for-sale sign at a home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, August 21, 2012. President Barack Obama said on Monday the U.S. housing market was
Home prices have run up in the U.S. but are mostly more affordable than major Canadian markets.(REUTERS)

Like many real estate markets around the world, U.S. home prices have run up during the pandemic to the point of some saying it’s in bubble territory.

But the whole time and for years before, Canada has said “hold my beer” as prices rocket through the stratosphere in a number of major markets.

The discrepancy really jumps off the page in comparisons of the most recent benchmark prices and household income. As the chart below from Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments, comparing Canada to the U.S. shows, a picture paints a thousand words, especially when it’s presented as an exploding gif.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1388165660598063104&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

The situation has gotten so bad for first-time buyers that many may have given up. Ontario is home to markets with the biggest recent run-ups. A survey by Right at Home Realty found 74 per cent of younger Ontarians aged 18 to 34 say they may never be able to afford a home where they currently live.

Michelle Makos, broker-owner at Royal Heritage Realty, sells real estate for a living but doesn’t like what she’s seeing, especially after a conversation with her recently engaged daughter who wants to buy a first home.

“She made a comment that they may have to move to the United States to find something they can afford and truly I would hate to lose my children simply because they feel like the housing situation here is out of their reach,” Makos told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“Being in real estate, it just made me realize, the one thing I love doing is the one thing that could cost me my daughter, if she were to leave.”

So she took to Twitter to see if other Canadians were feeling the same way as her daughter. She conducted a Twitter poll that showed many were in the same boat.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-1&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1395756831100882947&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

She was flooded with messages from frustrated Canadians who were seriously considering leaving the country because of high home prices and shared many of them on Twitter. She eventually put a selection of the messages she received in a handy document for everyone to see.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-2&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1397895446048169985&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

“We as a country can do better,” said Makos.

But not so fast if you’re like any of these people and thinking of moving across the border. There are a number of things to consider.

Immigration rules for moving from Canada to the U.S.

The first thing to consider is immigration laws. If you work from home, you can’t just grab your laptop and start working from the U.S.

Sara Herbek, managing partner at Global Immigration Associates, says you need a U.S. employer to sponsor you and be qualified for a TN or L-1 visa.

“If a Canadian employer has a U.S. entity, this could potentially be another option, however, it depends on the visa category,” Herbek told Yahoo Finance Canada.

It’s the same deal if you plan to work for a U.S. employer.

“Canadians are able to present TN and L-1 visa petitions at the border (now by air is recommended versus by land),” said Herbek.

“In other visa categories, the employer would need to file the visa petition with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and obtain approval first.”

Herbek says it’s important to have all of the correct paperwork when entering the U.S. to avoid being turned away.

“They should ensure they have original documents when appearing at the border: approval notice, as applicable, educational documents, birth or marriage certificates,” said Herbek.

Mortgage rules for buying a home in the U.S.

Unless you’re lucky enough to be able to buy a home outright, you’ll need a mortgage and things are mostly similar to obtaining a mortgage in Canada if you’re moving to the U.S. permanently, but with some key differences.

Rob Mclister, mortgage editor at RATESDOTCA says one of them is proof of income.

“It may be harder to prove income to the U.S. lender’s satisfaction if you have already moved to the U.S. before applying for a mortgage,” Mclister told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“That’s because most mainstream U.S. lenders generally want to see at least two years of U.S. tax returns. If this is the case, find a good broker in the U.S. to advise you.”

If you plan to buy before your immigration and job situation are sorted out, Mclister says most lenders will want 20-25 per cent down instead of the 5 per cent minimum in Canada.

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Canadian Mortgage Debt Hits $1.69 Trillion, Fastest Rate of Growth Since 2010

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Canada is experiencing a real estate boom, and it’s fueled by a flood of cheap mortgage debt. Bank of Canada (BoC) data shows mortgage credit reached a record high in April. That’s no longer a surprise since it’s a regular occurrence, but the rate of growth is noteworthy. Canadians added the equivalent of 6% of GDP to mortgage debt over the past year. It’s now growing at the fastest rate in a decade, as people scramble to buy as much house as possible. 

Canadian Mortgage Debt Hits $1.69 Trillion, After Growing 6% of GDP

Canadian mortgage debt reached a record high, adding a massive amount in just a short period. The balance reached $1.69 trillion in April, up 1.06% ($17.74 billion) from the month before. The annual increase works out to 7.80% ($122.25 billion), which is just a mind-blowing number. For context, $122.25 billion is the size of ~6% of the country’s GDP. With this kind of scale, it shouldn’t be a surprise how dependent the economy is on real estate. 

Canadian Residential Mortgage Debt

The outstanding dollar amount of residential mortgage credit held by Canada’s instituional lenders.

Canadian Mortgage Debt Is Growing At The Fastest Rate Since 2010

The rate of mortgage growth isn’t just high for this period — it’s high by historical standards. The annual rate of growth is the largest seen since 2010. For the month of April, you need to go a little further back — to 2009. Usually, during a recession, it’s difficult to get households to borrow. In Canada, households ramped up the borrowing and purchases of expensive goods.

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