Last year ago we posted an article on the risks of shopping for music gear online from overseas businesses. Now with the ever-revolving door of lockdowns across Australia, many of us are looking at ways to be more productive at home and the ease of purchasing online doesn’t always equate to money well spent or saved! Shopping online is definitely part of our new norm, although it can be risky particularly when purchasing music equipment from overseas, there are lots to consider. Whilst we always recommend buying locally you’ll need to consider: power supplies and power ratings are different across the world, warranty and returning of faulty goods, package and shipping costs, import duties and tax, delays in shipping, through to reliability and reputation of where you are purchasing from!
NOT ALL POWER IS THE SAME
Will the product work in Australia, especially being an electronic device and it relies on a particular technology, power supply or voltage to operate? It may be relatively easy to find an appropriate power supply from a store like Jaycar, but what if the unit is set to 110v as in the USA and is not multi-voltage or automatically switchable from 110v to 240v? You will then require what is commonly known as a step-down transformer but these have different power ratings so you have to get the right one and these can cost anywhere between $25 to $100+, depending on which one you require. Ultimately, we need to treat power with great respect as you can blow up your device if you are not careful, and there’s no warranty for blowing up your device!
WARRANTY & RETURNING FAULTY GOODS
One of the first challenges you may encounter when you buy from an international company is that if there is some dispute with the goods you have bought you may find it very frustrating to get a resolution from them and it can also be a very long process. Be aware that purchasing from overseas does not entitle you to the same warranty conditions as it does when purchasing from a reputable Australian retailer. Generally, if you are asked to return a faulty item you may need to cover the initial cost of shipping and if the product you’ve sent back is found not to have a problem, you may also have to pay an administration and/or inspection fee. Should an item be deemed faulty, it’s likely all shipping expenses will be made by the buyer, not the seller. This can get rather costly, especially for larger items, with additional fees for things like insurance, tracking and signature on delivery.
However, if a dispute is not resolved within a reasonable amount of time, The International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) website (www.icpen.org) does provide information on how to resolve cross-border disputes, although remember consumer protection laws vary across different jurisdictions. Of course, there are reputable overseas businesses that do the right thing, and they will generally have an association with an Australian company, but these are few and far between.
You should be cautious about buying parallel imports online. These are products purchased from a seller who does not have the manufacturer’s specific approval to sell those products on the Australian marketplace.
Some obvious indications that a product may be a parallel import include:
- product is genuinely made overseas, but you can’t identify any relationship or association between the seller and the manufacturer
- the purchase price is way cheaper than you would ordinarily expect to pay for the product in Australia and from an authorized overseas dealer
- product is not available on the Australian market
- product has been refurbished rather than brand new.
- product may not be a typical Australian model and may be different from what you expect, for example, it may not be adapted for the local environment in Australia.
Although the product may carry a specific or popular brand name – if it is sold to you as a parallel import, the local distributor is not obligated to help you if the product develops a fault and you will need to contact the place of purchase, being outside Australia. Hence, the same issues may arise again by obtaining a resolution as previously stated.
GUITARS ON PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES
What about buying a guitar online —you would need to ask yourself some questions:
- how will the guitar be supplied?
- will the guitar be packed well enough to endure its tour across the globe?
As the guitar will most likely be handled by different people during its journey, which could result in a surprise no one wants. You will also need to factor in the cost of set-up, and a full set-up will cost anywhere between $60-$150, depending on the instrument. Also is it a genuine musical instrument by the manufacturer? There are many accurate reproductions out there, and there’s no way you’d know until you get your hands on it. Personally, I would never buy a guitar online as I would want to feel the neck, the balance and even smell the guitar as well as hear the tone it produces. I’m certain there are many others out there that feel the same, so bricks and mortar store is where you will find me when looking for a new axe. Having said that, there are many reputable online stores in Australia that do a great job of selling guitars online and have many happy customers due to the diligence and service they provide.
Of course the same applies to larger items such as keyboards, drums and other larger bulky items!
IMPORT DUTY AND TAXES
This brings us to our next point that everyone wants to know — is it cheaper to buy from overseas rather than locally in Australia?
We will focus specifically on comparing the US market, as that is where most of your Google search results will end up. Please be aware that US prices do not include shipping, GST or customs duties. You will also need to check the current exchange rates and associated fees with your chosen payment portal when buying in US currency –
For items under $1000, overseas companies that do AUD$75k+ of business with Australia are required to collect 10% GST. This will be added to your bill at the point of purchase.
If your item is over AUD$1000 in value, then Australian Customs will pull you up for GST and add another 5% in customs fees at the border. The GST is 10% of the total value of your product plus shipping/insurance plus customs duties! For example: if your shopping spree comes to a total of $AUD1550 after shipping and customs fees, then GST will be $155.
For more info check out the Australian Border Force website:
Then, of course, there are certain shipping companies that have their own additional fees for the customs handling. The other additional costs that can add up include slightly less favourable or delayed exchange rates offered by online payment systems such as PayPal. Don’t forget paying with certain Aussie credit cards might also incur an additional overseas transaction fee from your bank. Remember all services are run by organizations that profit from the exchange and transfer of money from your chosen payment method to the vendor – they are not free. Whilst these amounts are small, they can start to add up.
Let’s look at 2 different products – one priced around AUD $1100.00 and one above AUD $2000.
Here’s an example based on the current exchange rate between the USA and the AUD dollar. Let’s say you find a MODAL Electronics Argon8 37 key selling for USD $749/00 and in Australia, it is priced around $1144.00. Let do the math.
(The exchange rate is based as at the time of writing 23/8/2021) USD $749.00 = AUD $1042.76
- Shipping costs = USD$35.00/AUD $49.00
- Import Duty = AUD $45.20
- Import GST AUD $94.92
- Total Price AUD = $1093.52
You have just paid just over $50.00 more, and this doesn’t include all the service fees from financial institutes or the risk of shipping and warranty issues!
Let’s look at another example of a product that is priced over AUD$2000. How about the Arturia Polybrute 61-key Synthesiser priced at USD$2699 versus the local AUD$3799.
(The exchange rate is based as at the time of writing 23/8/2021)
- US $2199 = AUD $3761.15
- Shipping costs = USD $118.98 = AUD $165.80
- Import Duty = AUD $153.30
- Import GST AUD $321.93
- Total Price AUS = $4402.18
In this example, you are paying over AUD $600 more!
TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
As I mentioned above, I would never buy a guitar online, although it did occur to me for piano and synth players out there, wouldn’t you want to feel the type of keys the digital piano or synth had? Does the weight of the piano keybed suit your playing style? How does the synth or piano sound in the real world and not through the tiny speakers on your mobile device when listening to demos!? This led me to another point, when I purchased headphones in the past I always wanted to try them on for comfort and to hear the sound quality. I also made use of my own music device to playback tunes I wanted to reference. There are some music items that require us to try them on before you buy. It can be a very personal choice, and trying them out in a store you can walk into is a very different experience from previewing music gear online. Whilst you could argue clothing might be a fairly easy item to buy online, I’m not about to buy an expensive pair of new shoes without trying them on!
CLICK & COLLECT
One of the great innovations in recent times has been the revolution of delivery to your door for food, alcohol or just about anything you need. The other great option is “Click and Collect” which is an awesome alternative. So let me think, I have the option to buy a plane ticket, get through customs, arrive at the store, pick up my plectrums, back to the airport, on the plane and get back home in time for my gig! That’s obviously just not going to happen, but the option to do so at my local store is a real bonus, plus I won’t be waiting for the delivery from overseas to arrive and go stir crazy looking at the tracker for my parcel. I’ve had previous parcels from overseas go through so many depots and handling agents that by the time it had arrived, a new model had been released. Yeah, delays on shipments are painful to deal with, but at least if it happens here on our shores, you have some way of making contact directly with transport companies or the Aus Post to get some sort of peace of mind. Oh, and then there are the delays in shipping due to the pandemic – even when you’ve spent lots of extra money on the expedited service from Europe or the USA. [Editor’s note: I waited 3 months last year for the synth module thinking it was a delay in shipping due to covid. It was hard to contact the retailer. After a few months I finally got through and found out the retailer had forgotten to ship the item!]
CHEAPER FOR CASH
Want to buy now and pay later? Well, Australian retailers offer payment options like Lay-by, Zip Pay or Rent to Buy so you can budget your payments over a period of time. When buying overseas this is not going to be an option, other than paying upfront. There are retailers outside Australia who offer payment options that can easily entice your purchase, but beware these options are not available to Australian consumers!
Additionally, if you like to haggle on price, the negotiation strategy of “any cheaper for cash” (as my mother would say) with overseas vendors is pretty much useless!
Also, consider the exchange rate is never what you’d see on popular currency conversion websites. The exchange rate you see on major media outlets can be very different to what rate consumers will get. The actual rate can fluctuate dependent on the time of day and which foreign currency market the conversion is applied to. Then there’s also the delay of the exchange being implemented by the international seller and some conversions have a small admin fee attached to exchanges. Then there could be an additional charge added to the purchase from your bank in Australia for making an overseas purchase!
There you have it, we honestly believe that keeping your hard-earned here in Australia is the way to go, however, that’s not to say that buying from overseas can have its advantages. Purchasing clothing, cosmetics and or jewellery have their place on the open market, but having once bought spare parts from an overseas retailer, it led to a whole lot of problems to what we were expecting and what we received were two very different things! But that’s a story for another time.
Our best advice – take your time, consider all the costs versus the time it will take to receive the product. Yes, there are opportunities to save money on smaller, boutique type brands and products that are underrepresented in Australia. Although for all Australian distributed products, best to buy local where you can get customer service and speak to a real human — and ultimately you’ll be contributing to the local economy!