Overcoming rip-off retailers

It's now not worth the effort of buying cheap mobile phones in the UK and taking them back to New Zealand.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

The new year has kicked off in New Zealand with the usual bleats about the relatively high prices for technology that we face.

Kiwis face paying up to 40 percent more for certain ICT offerings than Americans pay and, naturally, consumers are unhappy.

The vendors and retailers reply that this is because the small size of the New Zealand market prevents the economies of scale found in Australia or the US, and that the Kiwi consumer protection laws are that much stronger — which together means that they must charge more. There is also the matter of the GST as well.

Of course, this is a long-standing issue, one that Australia faces too.

You might remember me noting how in 2010, the UK offered mobile phones for as little as 99p (AU$1.50), but compared to Canada, we did not seem to have things too badly Down Under.

Now that I am back in the UK for an extended Christmas break and, again, thanks to the weakness of its currency, the United Kingdom remains "Bargain Britain," which is certainly presenting opportunities for online shoppers, both in Australia and New Zealand.

Last week, a survey showed that 15 percent of New Zealand shoppers go to the bricks-and-mortar stores to try things on, then later, find a cheaper deal online to buy what they tried on earlier. Quite often, this will involve buying from an overseas website.

Thus, we now get the practice of "showrooming," where the shop is no longer a retail outlet, but rather a place for retailers to "showroom" their wares.

This seems like a good way to get around any "rip-off" merchants in the retail sector.

Where there's a will and a need, there's a way, and innovative Kiwis are finding a variety of ways around price abuses from retailers.

New Zealand Post recently launched its YourPost service, allowing consumers to make purchases in the USA, which are then delivered to an American address, thus overcoming geographical restrictions that retailers may impose before a customer's purchase is shipped to New Zealand.

Others have found ways to overcome US retailers that do not want to sell to Australia and New Zealand by using US credit card numbers or anonymising their geographical location to make the online purchase.

As for me, back in the UK, I have discovered that a shocking bout of inflation has now pushed that 99p mobile phone to £2.95, but since it is time to retire my £5 Nokia, I am looking to trade up to a smartphone.

New Zealand mobile phone prices have dropped considerably in recent years, with basic models now starting at around NZ$19, and for iPhones, there seems to be little different wherever in the world you buy them. But for Samsung smartphones, the price difference is great.

Dear old Carphonewarehouse has the Galaxy Y for £64.95, or £35.96 for existing customers, which compares with the NZ$150 (or £75-plus) charged by most Kiwi retailers..

The Samsung Galaxy Ace is £89-95, or £71-96 for existing customers, compared with £120 from New Zealand's parallel importers.

It's now not worth the effort of buying cheap mobile phones in the UK, or posting them back to New Zealand. But for a mid-market smartphone, the savings are still huge. Thus, before I head back home, I will call in at Carphonewarehouse.

This all highlights how we can overcome "rip-off" retailers — how today's online world helps facilitate easy price comparison and also makes overseas purchasing that much easier.

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