In This Remote Town, Amazon Prime Is The Cheapest Way To Go Shopping

Residents of Iqaluit, Nunavut, say that Amazon Prime helps them save boatloads of money, but they're scared the company will take that away.

Think you're obsessed with Amazon Prime? People living in Iqaluit, Canada, actually depend on it.

Canada's CBC News reports that people in Iqaluit, which is the capital of the extremely remote Nunavut territory, say that Amazon Prime's goods and food staples are far more affordable than what they can buy anywhere else.

Iqaluit is on an island, accessible by daily jets from Montreal and Ottawa, both roughly 1,200 miles away. Travel by boat is tenuous because of sea ice, and many residents use snowmobiles to get around.

Residents of the 7,700-person town say Prime does more for them than even the Canadian government assistance program Nutrition North. The company's subscription service gives people access to free two-day shipping on eligible goods in Amazon's online store as well as to streaming video via Amazon Prime video. It costs $79 USD per year.

Goods at Iqaluit stores are often extremely expensive due to the cost of shipping items to the remote region. According to CBC News, a box of 180 diapers costs $70 off the shelf; the same thing is only $35 on Amazon Prime. Prime allows residents to save a fair amount of money.

Though many people in Iqaluit say that Prime makes their lives better, there is still a large swath of the population that can't afford the service, Wade Thorhaug of Qayuqtuvik Society, Iqaluit's sole soup kitchen, told the CBC.

Here's where Iqaluit is:

Residents of Iqaluit say they live in fear that Amazon will cut off free shipping to their town because of how expensive it is, as it did in 2015 with much of the rest of the territory.

Much like when Wal-Mart leaves rural communities, the loss of Amazon Prime could be devastating, residents said, because of how much more they would have to spend on basic necessities like deodorant and groceries.

CBC news compared the prices of groceries in Iqaluit to those on the mainland in a June 24 article:

  • $6.90 for one kilogram of carrots in Iqaluit that was $2.25 on the mainland.
  • $13.70 for a five kilogram bag of flour, $5 on the mainland
  • $6.05 for a tube of toothpaste, $2.61 on the mainland

But residents are hoping that Iqaluit's high volume of orders per person will persuade Amazon to continue offering free shipping to the town. CBC reported that Iqaluit's post office is one of the busiest in the country, processing 88,500 packages, or 12 per Iqaluit resident, in the first five months of 2017.

According to Amazon, here's what qualifies as "postal codes that are difficult to serve" in Canada:

  • Towns far from a shipper's hub

  • Towns that are infrequently served by shippers

  • Canada Post Air Stage Locations (where mail must be airlifted at certain times of the year)

Only standard shipping is available in these remote locations, and Amazon said on its site to "please allow an additional 2-5 days for delivery to these locations."

Amazon did not respond to requests to comment.

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