Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Benefits of Online Shopping

In recent media beat-ups some of the financial losses that Australian retailers are apparently suffering was blamed on Internet shoppers. Even Gerry Harvey was trotted out in front of the cameras to spout outrage at the loss of revenue to overseas retailers. "We must TAX them" came one idiotic suggestion, and in typical hysteria-laden headline-grabbing fashion, others joined the fray. Without thinking it through, or doing any research.

I say 'idiotic' because, in the same news piece, the journalist quoted a consumer buying jeans in the US at less than half the price of the Australian cost. So, even if they were charged 10% sales tax and let's say, another 10% penalty tax for being unAustralian, buying jeans overseas would still be a no-brainer. Hopefully others appreciated the foolishness of the 'let's introduce another tax' suggestion.

I'm sure it's not the salaries paid to retail workers that are driving shoppers overseas, and it certainly ain't the value of the dollar. I think it has more to do with escalating council rates and exorbitant rents, something we never hear about in these instances. For example, most traditional photo retail businesses are located in city centres or big shopping centres - the most expensive place anyone could choose to run a business from. Yet those that move into the cheaper, slightly less salubrious areas can afford to sell photo gear cheaper. This is not rocket science.
While some in the industry feign outrage at this claimed loss of income ask yourself this: why is it cheaper to buy a brand new Pentax K5 from Ryda Car Radio than it is from a specialist camera retailer in the city?
Why does a new MacBook Pro (17-inch screen model) cost $500 less in the US than it does in an Apple store here? As far as I know these are made in Singapore so it can't be the shipping costs, OR the exchange rate.
And why does an inkjet cartridge for my photo printer cost A$28 at Officeworks while in the States the same refill costs US$15, and in Japan it costs A$10. The same refill! No wonder people look overseas when all we get here is an inflated price and more often than not, poor service. I know it's easy for me to sit at my computer and blab on about 'how things are so expensive' but it not just me. Everyone that travels overseas realises just how expensive Australia has become. Clearly there are different taxes and import duties to take into account when comparing the US with Australia. Plus the States has a massive buying power so it can get bigger trade discounts from the same Japanese manufacturers we buy from. Even so...

I talk to locals, visitors from Europe and Japan. Australia is fast getting a rep for being a rip-off nation, and not just for photo-related items. For nearly everything, including food. Most people I deal with in the photography market shop overseas for three very good reasons.
- Firstly you stand to save a packet, even when the tax and shipping is accounted for.
- Secondly, you get access to a range of (photo) gear that far exceeds what can be found in this country and,
- Thirdly, even though you might not get a genuine warranty the turnaround and overall service (including returns, queries and complaints) is for the most part exceptional.

I appreciate that you get good personal service in many of the local photo stores - for years I have supported Paxtons because I've known one of the store managers there for several years and know she always gives fair and unbiased advice. But that said, a big chunk of sales go overseas simply because it's cheaper. Many Australian companies would go broke if it weren't for the fact that they bring in significantly cheaper Chinese products. 
Maybe we should stop cheap imports across the board and see where that gets us...

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