Opinion: Dickens On ... Rip-off Britain

Time to panic, everyone. Someone’s done a survey that’s hit a quiet news day and suddenly the consumer is being told the British marketer is ripping him off.

Time to panic, everyone. Someone’s done a survey that’s hit a quiet

news day and suddenly the consumer is being told the British marketer is

ripping him off.

In breathless indignation, the smug mid-market tabloids share their

horror at the fact that in other countries people pay less for the same

products than we do here. What are we, the marketers, going to do about


Well, not much and quite a lot is the most helpful answer I can


It’s not a new story. For as long as exchange rates fluctuate, variances

in purchase or VAT exist, shipping costs, retail costs, staffing costs

and rents vary, so too will the price of goods around the globe. If

Vegemite is made in Australia, it will be cheaper in Melbourne than in

Earl’s Court. If the US has less import tax, cheaper fuel (meaning

cheaper shipping) and a strong currency, your Levi’s will be cheaper

there than in Lithuania.

That’s a fact of life, not a rip off.

With the rise of e-commerce though, surely there’s a threat to companies

that import products that are cheaper elsewhere. Well, possibly, is my

helpful view.

For sure, I can call up a website in Singapore and order the Hokki-Kokki

2000 that I have seen in Dixons for 30 per cent more. But first I want

to see it.

That’s not a problem if you enjoy a guilt trip - just go to Dixons, take

up the salesman’s time and get the hands-on appreciation before rushing

back to your screen.

But worries start to gather like dark storm clouds. There isn’t a real

person to talk to. Will they send the PAL version, or will I get one

that only works in the Far East? What if it’s damaged by some thug in

the airport cargo bay? What if it packs up after a week? Plus there’s

the import duty to pay when it arrives and the worry that your credit

card details are now being used by hackers to order up dodgy porn in

your name. Suddenly, the deal doesn’t sound so attractive.

OK, so that’s on a high-ticket price item. What about something cheaper

like a book or that tub of Vegemite?

It’s easy. Log on, find the book/Vegemite and hey, in four, five, maybe

ten days, it arrives. By which time, I’m starving.

Of course, you have to pay for the shipping and still have the credit

card worries, but heck. We’ve bought something on the net for pounds 8

when in the shop it sells for pounds 15. Well, we’ve spent more like

pounds 10 actually, with P&P. Actually, it’s more like pounds 11, once

you add the cost of logging on, the electricity and a percentage of the

PC purchase price, but that’s still nearly a fiver saved.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not yet so broke that a pounds 4

differential will stop me wandering into Dillons and doing it for

myself. The smart retailers know this and have made the buying trip a

’Retail Experience Ride’. Add a coffee shop, fresh newspapers and

croissants, good music, knowledgeable people to help you choose and you

can forget about looking overseas for the best deal.

Except, of course, to create such a retail experience costs money and

the only way to get it is via bigger margins and higher prices. Which is

when the newspapers, on a quiet news day, go to town all over again.

Ian Dickens is the marketing director of Olympus.

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