Everyone loves a bargain, and some popular gear is available from online retailers operating out of Asia and the US at prices that might appear to be uber-competitive. But appearances can be deceptive: if it looks too good, it very often is, and there’s a whole range of considerations the canny purchaser needs to keep in mind when buying online…
The pros are obvious when buying online and are mostly to do with price, but the ‘cons’ also need to be considered:
1. Well, first is being conned! It happens occasionally when you ship money off to some random offshore entity without a phone number or address. The danger shouldn’t be overstated, but it is something to consider.
2. When the shipping costs and shipping insurance are added to the purchase costs, the savings often aren’t as impressive as they looked on first appearance.
3. Prices are usually non-negotiable – whereas you can often haggle with real live salespeople – who might also provide sound advice on features and options. And you can come back to the store whenever you want.
4. There is no guarantee that the product is fit for local conditions – cables, plugs, voltage, accessories, etc, and certainly no local certification such as the C-Tick compliance which Australian consumer products are required to have.
5. You will usually wait at least a week for the product to be delivered and if a repair is required, many more weeks for it to be returned – hopefully fixed and without long-distance disputes.
6. If you are lucky enough to have your warranty honoured from somewhere in Hong Kong or the US, you will incur a $50-$100 cost shipping the product back to head office. Non-refundable.
7. Tax fraud. If you’re in Australia and purchase a product overseas without paying GST, you could be in trouble with Customs and the ATO. On 1 July 2018, the Australian Government passed laws which extend the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to low value imports of physical goods valued at $1000 or less, extending the imposition of GST. This will have the following effects:
• Offshore merchants and ‘Electronic Distribution Platforms’ (Amazon, Ebay, etc) are now required to be registered for GST purposes and collect GST at the point of sale on low value goods (under $1000) that are to be sent for delivery in Australia.
• The GST will be added by the website shopping cart and will be payable at the time the order is paid for.
• Where the goods are to be shipped to an offshore re-delivery service such as ShopMate, that receive your goods overseas then arrange for their delivery to Australia, the re-deliverer is required to calculate the amount of the GST, collect it from you and pay it to the Australian Tax Office.
• For low value goods that are impacted by the change, GST is collected at the point of sale or via the re-delivery service, and not at the border.
There is no change for goods where GST or duties applied previously, including goods valued over $1000. These will remain assessable at the Australian border.
8. If you’re based in Australia and purchase from overseas, you deny yourself the protection of a whole swag of Australian consumer protection legislation, such as statutory warranties (standard consumer protection beyond the warranty supplied by the distributor), fit-for-purpose requirements – and simply protection from being swindled. The Australian Consumer Laws are among the toughest in the world – whereas it’s very much a ‘buyer beware’, no-refund environment in the global marketplace.
9. There are also some other considerations which aren’t to do with the risk of a troublesome transaction or faulty product, and those revolve around supporting Australian retailers and in turn Australian jobs – with smaller businesses in particular under a lot of pressure from the offshore behemoths and big box chains.
And while some people believed that Australian retailers overcharge for products, this perception has become less common, particularly for photographic equipment. In fact, smaller retailers have no say over the wholesale price they are charged (nor the price the larger retailers purchase the same product for), and most can’t afford to put much of a margin on camera equipment.
10. Photo specialist retailers are there to help you enjoy your photography – it’s a shared interest that goes beyond the sale of a product. We are all part of a community of shared interests, an ecosystem if you like. The more of us who choose to work around local suppliers the less viable those local suppliers become. For instance, last year Nikon announced it will no longer sell or support Nikon gear Brazil, in part because it was getting hammered by grey marketers.
– Adapted from an article originally written by Keith Shipton and published on the Photo Review Australia website.