Consumers could be paying almost double what they
need to for their hi-tech toys, an investigation has found.
The research, carried out by reporters at PC Pro
magazine, found that a basket of gadgets and software cost
£3,500 from UK shops, but was £1,000 less when bought
directly from US websites.
The saving varies by gadget but in many cases PC Pro
found that US prices were half those in the UK.
Software, laptops and portable music players were all
Following the investigation the reporters branded the UK
a "treasure island" for the computer industry because so
many people were paying more than they needed to for popular
electronic gadgets and software.
"Some manufacturers fob us off with stories of
localisation costs, but the price discrepancies between the
US and the UK are simply too big to justify," said Tim
Danton, PC Pro editor.
The price differences could be frustrating, he said,
because it was so easy to look on US websites and see what
Americans were paying for the same goods.
For its investigation PC Pro priced a basket of goods,
including hardware and software, that might be sought by
someone setting up their own business.
Buying the goods from US websites rather than UK
high-street stores could mean a saving of more than £1,000.
For example, a copy of Microsoft Office 2003 is £362 from
stores in the UK. By contrast it is on sale in some US web
shops for as little as £211. Gadgets such as digital cameras
were, on average, 40% cheaper in the US.
"If you know where to place your order and your rights as
an international customer, you're in a great position to
save a fortune," said Mr Danton.
Many US web retailers will supply goods direct to
customers in Britain.
The main advice for those shopping on US websites is to
check details of shipping and import duties before placing
any order. Both can wipe out any savings that would be made
on the basic price of software and consumer electronics.
Import duties can be tricky to negotiate. Digital still
cameras are duty free but monitors that can handle digital
video incur a 14% rate.
PC Pro also recommended finding out about the warranties
associated with products and the returns policy.
James Roper, chief executive of the Interactive Media in
Retail Group (IMRG) which represents web retailers, welcomed
the fact that the net helped people get a better deal.
The net was both a leveller and enabler, he said, and it
was up to retailers to convince customers to buy from them.
Nowhere was competition more intense than on consumer
electronics, said Mr Roper.
Figures from the IMRG show that web sales of electrical
goods grew five fold in the three years to Christmas 2004.
Web sales now make-up 20% of all retail sales and
influence a further 40%, said the IMRG.