Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pottery Barn, Jon Stewart, and online shopping from Quebec

When you live in Canada, you sometimes have to wait for the shiny, new products and services launched in the US to come here. 

In the 1970s, Burger King was rare in some parts of Canada, which made Whoppers an exciting treat when travelling with the family in the US. Same with Pizza Hut, Krispy Kreme, Marshall's, and Target. On the food side, there was Dr Pepper, Cookie Crisp cereal, and 100 Grand bars. Eventually, these things come to Canada (except for 100 Grand) and then the thrill is lost.

As more of our lives move online, Canadians are again finding themselves on the boring side of the border. Want to watch a funny Jon Stewart bit? Too bad. You can't watch it on the US website like everyone else. Websites know you're in Canada. Your internet provider is ratting you out.

The problem
In the part of Canada we call Quebec, there's an added layer of aggravation. Online commerce is being stifled by the Quebec language police who are asking online retailers to voluntarily block access to products on their website if it detects you are in Quebec. Here's a CTV News report.

What people in Quebec see when trying to browse at PotteryBarn.ca

Pottery Barn will ship items to Quebec, as long as you place your order from somewhere else.
The solution
What's the solution to this villainous impediment to free commerce? Here are two options.

Option 1: Much like the situation in the former Soviet Union when visitors from the West smuggled in blue jeans, ask a friend or relatives in the free parts of North America to order your items online for you. Maybe companies will spring up to place orders on behalf of beleaguered Quebecers.

Option 2: Why rely on the kindness of others when you can use technology to sweep aside the infamy of the language police. Use a VPN service to mask your location. Instead of Pottery Barn thinking you are in Quebec, you can trick them into thinking you are in the free cities of Toronto, New York, London, or Sydney. 

How does the VPN service work? You pay, then download the software to your computer, tablet, or smartphone, and then launch the software. Pick from one of dozens of locations when you want Pottery Barn to think you live somewhere less Quebecish. Now you can browse and buy. No more Soviet-style restrictions.
Which should you use. You can check the recommendations at Lifehacker. But here's what I use: ExpressVPN. The cost is $99.95 US per year.
Stores won't know you are in Quebec. You can shop freely. And as an added bonus, you can watch that Jon Stewart clip too.

ExpressVPN is a service that tricks websites like PotteryBarn.ca into believing you are not in Quebec. Now you can shop without being blocked.


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