Perspective-Taking for Policy-Making: An Analysis of Canadian Cross-border Shopping


Research plays an essential role in policy analysis and is a significant tool used to identify and prioritize alternatives for intervention. Yet public policy problems have a reputation for being complex because one problem (i.e. shopping behavior) can be viewed as part of a larger set of issues (i.e. trade policies, tax policy, border security, monetary policy, etc.). Accordingly, policy makers need research tools that allow them to understand how the system works. This research demonstrates a method for developing systems-level conceptual frameworks to support policy decision-making. Using archival techniques used by historical researchers in journalism, a 26-year period of news coverage of the cross- border shopping phenomenon in Canada has been conducted. Content assessment and content analysis methods are used to compare levels of topic visibility over time, exposing important changes in the landscape of cross-border shopping. The case study demonstrates how to use media coverage to develop integrative frameworks to organize issue topics, positions and policy options. Implications for public policy making and implementation are discussed along with study limitations and opportunities for future research.

Throughout history, consumers have crossed borders to hunt for bargains or to access unique or varieties of items that are not available locally. Though the phenomenon of cross- border shopping is nothing new, increases in international travel and the emergence of e-commerce and new payment methods have pushed levels of cross-border shopping to new heights. Globally, online shopping alone is worth US $105 billion with 94 million consumers buying regularly from overseas websites (PayPal, 2013). Though consumers are clearly interested in cross-border shopping, is cross- border shopping in the public interest?

Public policy research has an important role to play in keeping decision makers focused on “matters of public interest and identifying mechanisms, whether public or private, for addressing these issues” (Stewart, 2013, p. 2). Insightful articles on specific topics related to cross-border shopping run the gamut from shopping and vacation travel and tourism (Moscardo, 2004; Sullivan, Bonn, Bhardwaj, & DuPont, 2012; Timothy & Butler, 1995), international out-shopping (Piron, 2002; Varshney & Goyal, 2005; Yeung & Yee, 2012) and the rise of internet shopping (Ballard & Lee, 2007; Lee, Paswan, Ganesh, & Xavier, 2009), to dark-side issues including smuggling (Joossens & Raw, 1995; Lavik & Nordlund, 2009), illicit alcohol consumption (Jarl, Gerdtham,Lyttkens, Lithman, & Merlo, 2006; Rehm, Kanteres, & Lachenmeier, 2010), tax avoidance strategies (Gordon & Bo Nielsen, 1997; Scharf, 1999), and the impact on national (Hochman, 2005; Lucas, 2004) and border town economies (Ahmed, 1996; Bae, 2003; Lacharite, 2008).Studies have mainly focused on particular aspects of cross-border shopping, and as a result, the literature has neglected the multifaceted complexity of the phenomenon as a whole.

The purpose of this article is to offer an integrative framework to better understand the factors that give rise to and sustain various forms of cross- border shopping. Our research adopts a macroscopic and systems- level view of a market within which diverse forms of cross-border shopping have flourished, waned or persisted over the course of a generation. The aim in this study is to therefore discern the “big picture” formed by the tiles in the mosaic, providing policy makers with insight into the changes in cross-border shopping and the impact of those changes on the market over time.

Accordingly, our research reflects the call for a broader, more integrated understanding of how markets develop or diminish over time (Humphreys, 2010; Johnson, 2000; Mittelstaedt, Kilbourne, & Mittelstaedt, 2006).

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