Amazon has proved to be a life saver for most residents in Iqaluit, the only place in Nunavut where the company still offers free shipping for Amazon Prime members.
Residents can expect to pay $2 to $3 for something as simple as a bottle of dish soap on Amazon whereas the same item would cost them $8 to $9 at a local store. Diapers can cost them around $70 at the store versus $35 online.
Despite the 2011 launch of Nutrition North, a $60-million-a year program, these price disparities continue to exist. This program was designed to subsidize northern retailers and help them offset shipping costs. In theory, allowing them to keep prices low. The rise of Amazon Prime in Canada’s most northern capital proves government programs designed to make food more affordable in isolated regions are simply “not working,” says Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett.
“We are working now on a revision to Nutrition North … In the 2011 election, I was in Iqaluit where they said this wouldn’t work.”
While there are other online retailers that people are using in Iqaluit, Amazon is the most dominant one.
Many residents say that whenever there is free shipping to be had, word spreads instantly. They share the sentiment that, even though subsidies are supposed to be alleviating the costs, they can only depend on Amazon Prime for now. They also want to know why Ottawa doesn’t simply team up with retailers like Amazon to help extend free shipping to other communities.
Residents in a majority of isolated northern communities said that Ottawa should, at the very least, immediately re-examine how it subsidizes certain categories of necessities.
For the thousands that don’t live in Iqaluit, they still face prohibitive shipping fees for anything they buy online. Many turn to family and friends and ask them to make those online purchases and mail it to them. Of course, families with no credit card cannot take advantage of an $80 a year Amazon Prime membership.