Canada Post closes loophole for Nunavummiut to access free Amazon shipping

The post office in Rankin Inlet, pictured April 2024. (Noel Kaludjak/CBC News)

Nunavummiut from several communities say they’re reeling from suddenly losing access to free Amazon shipping after Canada Post put an end to a loophole customers utilized to access the service.

For years, residents of small Nunavut communities shipped their Amazon orders to fake postal codes as a way to save hundreds of dollars a year on food and supplies. While these products are available at local grocery stores, their prices are significantly higher due to the cost of Northern transportation.

Iqaluit is the only community in Nunavut that qualifies for free shipping with Amazon Prime.

But last month, Canada Post began enforcing its long-held return-to-sender policy for any misaddressed mail. Because those Amazon shipments were addressed to incorrect and fake postal codes, dozens of Amazon orders have been sent back to the company — even after being flown in to local post offices.

Canada Post issued notices on April 10 it would begin enforcing its policy.

In Rankin Inlet for example, where the local postal code is X0C 0G0, residents were shipping goods to X0C 0G1 — which isn’t a real postal code. The packages would nonetheless make their way to the community and into the recipient’s P.O. Box, which were correct on the package.

“I do understand. The [return-to-sender] policy has been on the website for years. But on Canada Post’s end, they didn’t really give us any warning,” said Rankin Inlet’s Amanda Eecherk.

“It’s just now we have to figure out another way to stretch our budgets. People are struggling. Local stores tend to really inflate prices. By not having Amazon free shipping, you’re really looking at more food insecurity.”

Eecherk used Tim Hortons soup cans as an example of food she’d buy on Amazon to stretch her budget. A single can sells for $2.79 on the online retailer, versus what she said is upwards of $8 locally.

But when she entered her correct Rankin Inlet postal code, Eecherk said the shipping for two cans of soup was $56.94 on Amazon’s checkout page.

Amanda Eecherk said Tim Hortons soup was one item she’s rely on Amazon to buy for her household because of the free shipping. Since the crackdown on incorrect addressing, two cans of soup would cost her $56.94 to ship to her community of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. (Nick Murray/CBC News)

Other things she’d previously order from Amazon included canned fruits and vegetables, tomato sauce, coffee pods, dishwasher liquid, dog food and children’s toys.

“The more money that you save by buying goods on Amazon, the more money you have then to go into the store to buy fresh fruits and vegetables,” Eecherk said.

“Just have a happy quality of life. That’s what we deserve as Canadians. That’s what everybody wants.”

Increased costs to Canada Post, company says

Canada Post said the move to now intercept misaddressed packages is in line with the company’s increased efforts over the last year to improve mail delivery in Nunavut, according to Jon Hamilton, the company’s vice president of strategic communications and stakeholder engagement.

He said incorrect postal codes bog down the system because they require manual sorting by hand — which leads to slower mail delivery to all customers.

“Just there were so many workarounds that, when you do that to a process that works well everywhere else, you have problems and you have people in the back trying to figure out which parcel goes where,” Hamilton said.

The shipping of Amazon parcels with incorrect addressing did bear additional costs to the company, he added.

“Years ago, when an address was wrong on one or two parcels you could figure that out. But with the demand that we see, you can see it creates backlogs and problems that slows the system down for everybody.”

Asked why Canada Post was returning parcels which were already flown in to local post offices, Hamilton said incorrectly-addressed mail could be intercepted at a number of sorting points in the processing chain, including local post offices.

A spokesperson for Amazon couldn’t answer when CBC News asked why the company would even accept packages with nonexistent postal codes in the first place.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Canadian North says new Ottawa warehouse will cut costs of bringing goods to north, CBC News

Nick Murray, CBC News

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