I recently flew back from the UK, and as I waited at Heathrow Airport, I looked at the longest queue in the airport. Not for checking in, but for reclaiming VAT (the UK equivalent of GST) on items purchased within the UK. As a foreigner, you’re technically exempt from that particular tax and can claim it back when you leave the country. There was one bloke in line with a 50″ Plasma TV.
Not exactly carry-on material, your average 50″ Plasma TV, and my thoughts quickly turned to the fact that whatever VAT saving he was about to make once he got to the front of the queue was going to be totally obliterated by excess baggage fees, and then some.
Taxes and duties do add to the prices of the technology goods we buy, but even that extreme example (which most of us wouldn’t follow) is only part of the story. Wandering through the duty free section of Sydney’s International airport on the other end of the flight, I quickly ducked past the perfume and cigarettes (neither is my thing) and had a quick look at the technology and gadgets on offer.
Most technology gear isn’t what you’d commonly call cheap. Often decent value for what you can do with it (needs permitting), but the initial outlay is often quite high. As such, you’d think the removal of taxes should lead to some real bargains.
At least from an initial glance, it isn’t exactly so. Plenty of folks around me were scooping up cigarettes like their lives depended on it (an irony in itself) but the products laid out before me were priced more like they were in a high end department store than the theoretically cheap paradise of duty free. All of them, naturally enough, had huge notices proclaiming exactly how much of a bargain they were.
It’s a pattern that’s not restricted to duty free shopping for technology, however. I’ve lost track of the number of “cheap” printers, music players, notebooks and monitors I’ve seen in any number of ordinary retail outlets that have given me pause for thought on price grounds. Sometimes the “saving” price quoted is the RRP, but it’s an RRP that nobody ever actually pays, because every other retail outlet discounts the same thing at the same rate to get customers in the door. Sometimes it’s because the item in question did sell at the stated RRP twelve months ago when it was still new, but it’s now been superseded by a newer model with better features. Somehow, the stores never make note of that fact.
Does that mean that there’s no such thing as a technology bargain? Not at all. It’s all a question of research and preparation. Most technology purchases aren’t spur of the moment matters, so knowing the real value of a product upfront is key. Price search engines such as StaticICE (www.staticice.com.au) can help with working out a reasonable price bracket for a given product before you shop, as can keeping up with the current status of a given product. If the new model has features you don’t need and the old one is really cheap, that’s the very definition of a bargain. Conversely, if you find you need the new features quickly, it’s no bargain at all.