Oh Canada, Where Imports Cost Less

Please pardon the first couple paragraphs of self indulgence. I felt as though I needed to explain my motivation for writing this post before, you know, actually writing this post.

Sometimes in the comments section of a particularly contentious post, someone will attempt to insult me by suggesting that I’m not a journalist. It’s true. I’m not. And nor would I ever want to be confused with one. I enjoy writing about baseball and things that have to do with baseball. I’m not so sure I’d enjoy having to report about baseball or things that have to do with baseball. That’s what makes me a blogger and not a reporter.

What I love about blogging is that I don’t have to pretend to be objective. I can openly and honestly root for the Toronto Blue Jays or the San Francisco Giants or individual players that I like to watch. That’s not to say that my analysis in general always favours my favourite teams and players, it just means that when I write about Pablo Sandoval and the ridiculous concerns over contention between him and Bruce Bochy, I can let you know my obvious bias at the beginning of my post.

I’m a fan of the game first and foremost. And I write from this perspective. Which is why I find things like this upsetting.

This is how much a replica Jose Bautista Blue Jays jersey would cost me if I were to purchase it online through Jays Shop, the official online shop of the Toronto Blue Jays:

Notice the size? The small was the only size available.

Here is the cost of the exact same jersey ordered through MLB.com’s shopping site:

Notice the size? The small was one of eight sizes available.

Notice the total cost? That’s a $36.71 difference, assuming par, even though one Canadian dollar, at the time of writing is actually worth $1.0038 U.S.

A Toronto Blue Jays fan noticed this vast difference and alerted the Jays Shop via email. He received a courteous reply assuring him that:

We are currently working on analyzing the price differences of similar products within the two websites due to the soar of the Canadian Dollar. Prices are not adjusted right away, but will be adjusted accordingly once we have completed our research.

The soar of the Canadian dollar? In order to justify the price difference solely on currency exchange, the Canadian dollar would have to be worth almost exactly $.80 U.S. The Canadian dollar hasn’t been worth that little since April 1st, 2009.

The email goes on to suggest that additional charges may be applied to a package going through customs. However, having ordered several things online in the past from the United States, additional charges from what I originally pay has never once been part of my experience.

The email continues:

Another factor in the difference in pricing between the two websites is the buying volume advantage for MLB. The MLB websites (for all 30 teams) are able to purchase more product from suppliers, who in turn, are able to offer them lower prices. Since the Blue Jays are the only Canadian team and we are the Official Online Team Shop in Canada, we have less volume than the 30 teams combined. So our costs are higher.

A Blue Jays representative offered a similar line of justification for the higher prices:

We are required to get our product from Major League Baseball official suppliers, which of course are based in the US. For us to stock our stores and have availability on-line we must have the product shipped here in advance. The difference in price from the US on-line store arises from the additional freight, duty and customs charges we pay up front, which in turn gives us a higher cost for the same product.

Unfortunately, the explanation comes off more like a plea: We have worse service, worse selection and higher prices, but please buy from us anyway because we can’t help it. Under these terms, online purchasing through Jays Shop is completely dependent on suckers, unaware of lower prices on another website.

I don’t understand why the team would bother operating independently from MLB at all with its online merchandise. The consumer certainly doesn’t benefit financially from this practice, and without giving specific numbers, I was told that even though merchandise revenue is split between all MLB teams, the Blue Jays receive more money from merchandise sales via Jays Shop than from MLB.com. However, the amount is hardly substantial.

According to the Blue Jays, the value add of shopping online through Jays Shop is in the customer service end. The website is focused solely on one team while MLB.com services fans of all thirty clubs. The selection available online may not be fantastic at the moment, but that has more to do with the rebranding this off season than it does standard operations.

Yesterday morning, I attempted to call the customer service representatives at Jays Shop to ask about the price difference. The line rang six times before going to voice mail. The service asked me to leave my name and number, and someone would get back to me as soon as possible. I complied, but have yet to hear back from them. Fortunately, I had the contact information for the Blue Jays representative I’ve quoted throughout this piece. He was quick to offer responses to my questions, suggesting that a consumer could very well find cheaper prices online through MLB.com, but that they’d be taking a chance in terms of customer service and potentially paying additional fees due to traveling through customs.

I don’t think that there’s anything malicious going on here, and I certainly wouldn’t suggest that the current online sales method that Jays Shop is practicing is a cynical cash grab. It’s more of an oversight, which normally can be forgiven. It’s just that this kind of oversight is more intolerable for a franchise that’s been very good at making its intentions known, but somewhat lacking in seeing those intentions come to fruition.

We’ve heard time and again from the Blue Jays front office about its primary goal of becoming a first class organization. This off season has generated a lot of negative sentiment from the more casual baseball fans in the city and across the country who expected the team to spend on free agency in a fashion that quite honestly didn’t make a whole lot of fiscal sense. While the woe is me claims of mistreatment by fans may have been misdirected in that case, ripping supporters off through a very accessible point of contact to the team isn’t exactly the most consumer friendly of practices, and should certainly, for once, give supporters a righteous cause to complain.