Everyone loves a bargain, and some popular models are available from online retailers operating out of Asia and the US at prices that might appear to be 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 consumer 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 real live salespeople can negotiate – not to mention providing 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. If there is a warranty honoured, you will incur a $50-$100 cost shipping the product back to some other part of the world. Non-refundable.
6. 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.
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 AU$1,000 or less, extending the imposition of GST. This will have the following effects:
• Offshore merchants and Electronic Marketing Platforms are now required to be registered for GST purposes and collect GST at the point of sale on low value goods 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 (e.g. ShopMate) who 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 AU$1,000 or deliveries containing contents like tobacco or alcohol irrespective of value. 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 operators in particular under a lot of pressure.
And while some people believed that Australian retailers were overcharging for products, this 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.