Don't forget sales tax
Of course, there is always going to be some difference in prices quoted for goods. In America, for example, quoted prices don’t include sales tax, which is set by the states and varies around the country.
Depending on which state you buy your products from, you can expect to add up to 20 per cent to the quoted price.
In Australia though, all goods and services are quoted with the 10 per cent GST included in the price. This automatically means that the difference between US and Australian prices are never quite as big as they appear at first glance.
There are other factors at play in the price between Australian and international products. Australia has a higher cost of living than places like the US, which makes rent, wages and marketing all a bit more expensive down under. These costs need to be absorbed into the RRP, which explains a small part of the pricing difference.
But it doesn’t explain the majority of it. When it comes to digital products especially, where there is no packaging, pressing or distribution costs, there is quite simply no justification for companies like Adobe to increase the price of an identical product by over 50 per cent for Australian consumers over other parts of the world.
The “Australia tax” situation reached an apex earlier this year when the government acted on complaints from the public to hold an inquiry into why technology companies felt they could charge Australians more than other places in the world for identical products.
Without regulation – which was almost unanimously advised against – there’s no way for the government to force companies to offer fairer prices for Australian consumers.
But what the inquiry did do is bring awareness to the public about the potential benefits of the grey market, and the savings that can be had.
What are your rights?
If the grey market item is purchased locally from an Australian-based seller, then Australian consumer guarantees apply (see "Australian Consumer Guarantees" below).
If it’s purchased from a seller based outside of the country, then you aren’t covered by local laws for refunds or repairs if something goes wrong.
Local sellers and grey market products
If a local business, including a website, sells grey market products, then they are acting as the importer or supplier. As such, they are responsible for providing the consumer guarantees that include repair, replacement or refund, even if the manufacturer doesn’t have an office in Australia.
A number of locally-based websites selling cameras and tech products have started to include grey market products in their line-up, while some have set up secondary websites to sell grey market devices in Australia.
You should know that any seller or business operating in Australia must provide consumer protection for grey market products the same as products sold through official channels.
It’s used as a selling point by a few websites that they’ll cover import items with a warranty, but they’re only providing consumer guarantees that they are obliged to offer according to Australian consumer law.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says that consumers can turn to the supplier or the manufacturer for a remedy if something goes wrong with their product.
An ACCC spokesperson advised that suppliers may send the goods to the manufacturer for diagnosis or repair, but they cannot require consumers to deal with the manufacturer directly.
“Suppliers must remember that they should provide a remedy to the consumer within a reasonable time so they should have procedures in place to follow up on goods that are sent away for diagnosis or repair.”
Also, if suppliers find that there is a major problem with am item, can’t repair the product, or can’t repair it within a reasonable time, they should advise the consumer of this and allow them to choose their preferred remedy.
However, many manufacturers will outright refuse to deal with grey market products and will direct inquiries for updates or warranty claims back to the grey market seller.
Many manufacturers don’t like grey markets because they claim they undermine their official distribution channels and the pricing arrangements in place for different markets.
Manufacturers say that they factor warranty support into their prices for products sold through authorised channels and grey market importers that try to dodge their warranty responsibilities by directing consumers to the manufacturer are saving themselves money and imposing the cost on the manufacturer.
Most manufacturers will offer service and support agreements only through the authorised importer, which could leave non-authorised importers not equipped to provide software updates and service.
Some tech manufacturers offer an international warranty, but this won’t replace the Australian consumer guarantees for products bought locally.
The ACCC says that sellers and manufacturers can make extra promises about their products, but consumers should know that these provisions are in addition to the consumer guarantees and an international warranty cannot be used to avoid their liability to provide a remedy according to Australian law if something does go wrong.
You may be entitled to ask the seller to fix their problem even if a voluntary or extended warranty has expired.
Both retailers and manufacturers must ensure that their voluntary and/or extended warranty or international warranty doesn’t mislead consumers into thinking that this is the extent of their rights, and once this warranty period is over, they no longer have a right to a remedy.
Some grey market sellers are safer than others when it comes to warranty protection. It’s usually easier for consumers to gain a remedy from a local online site than it is to get a result from a seller on a site like eBay, so it’s up to you to make a judgment call on where to shop and if the cheapest price is the only consideration.
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