Given the price differential, it’s hard to see that GST on imports would make any difference

AU cash and JB cardAmong the presents I got for my birthday was a JB Hifi gift card. This always presents a challenge: what bargains can I pick up?

Browsing around the store one day, I found the two Harry Potter movies we don’t already have — the Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2 — on Blu-ray, for $14.98, and on a two-for-the-price-of-one deal. Sold.

But what to spend the remaining $14.02 on?

Here are the prices of some movies and other discs that are on my To Buy list… with a comparison between Amazon UK, JB Hifi and Ezydvd.

Title JB Hifi EzyDVD Amazon UK
Firefly (TV series) Blu-ray [1] $36.98 $42.97 £15.00 ($21.93)
Doctor Who (series 5) Blu-ray $133.99 $139.97 £17.00 ($24.65)
Doctor Who (series 6) Blu-ray [2] NA $119.97 £18.25 ($26.35)
Tintin(movie) Blu-ray 2D [3] $49.99 $52.97 £8.25 ($12.72)
The Slap DVD[4] $55.99 $57.97 £6.77 ($10.71)
  • [1] Firefly was recently about double this price in Australia for the Blu-ray. It seems they’ve now brought it down to a reasonable price at last.
  • [2] JBHifi online only lists the part 1 and part 2 Blu-rays of Doctor Who series 6, which excludes extras.
  • [3] The Tintin movie in Australia appears to be only available on Blu-ray with bundled (but in my case, unwanted) DVD and digital copy. Amazon has this edition as well, at 10 pounds more than just the Blu-ray. In Australia, the 3D Blu-ray is another $10, making it around $60.
  • [4] I’m not really in the market for this, but I thought I’d throw it in as an example of an Australian production. In Australia the price of the DVD or Blu-ray seems to be equally high. Amazon UK only lists the DVD; no Blu-ray.

The dollar prices for Amazon UK above are with the VAT deducted, and the £1.49 per item delivery cost added. There is an additional £2.09 ($3.27) cost per delivery, which is why most people try and buy multiple things at once, rather than ordering items one-by-one.

But even with delivery costs, some of these items are ludicrously more expensive buying in Australia. It’s not hard to see why people are importing — and also not hard to see that while some retailers want 10% GST added to imports, it would make hardly any difference at all — not when in some of these cases Amazon will deliver it to you for a fifth of the Australian price.

The rise of the Aussie dollar has obviously played a part here, but this isn’t new… it’s been over 60 UK pence for about two years.

And I’m not saying the retailers are necessarily to blame here, but something somewhere in the supply chain for these products is obviously very fishy indeed.

PS lunchtime. Obviously the price differential is quite different for various products and types of product. I think I actually got a pretty good deal on the Harry Potter Blu-rays, and I doubt they are cheaper via Amazon… this of course makes it all the more puzzling. Ultimately someone in the supply chain believes that Australians shopping locally are prepared to pay higher prices than our UK friends… that, after all, is how the free market operates.

By the way, unlike for DVDs, the UK and Europe is the same region for Blu-ray discs as Australia (region B).

PS 18/11/2012: I did eventually buy a couple of these yesterday during a JB Hifi “20% off DVDs and Blu-ray” sale. Firefly (still at around $37) went down to about $30, which is close to the US price (though still a bit above the UK one), and Tintin now has a new Blu-ray only edition retailing for $19.95. At 20% off that took it down to about $16. I also noticed The Slap has dropped to about $40.

DVD vs Blu-Ray picture quality

I never quite believed I’d see much of the difference between DVD and Blu-Ray on an 80cm (32 inch) TV. But with brand-name Blu-Ray players now below $100, and releases such as the complete set of Star Wars movies out on Blu-Ray, this past Christmas seemed like the right time to jump in and try it.

One of the presents I got was the Blu-Ray of Tron: Legacy, which also included the original Tron movie. Since I already had the DVD of the former, I’m able to compare the DVD against the Blu-Ray versions.

The scene from Flynn’s arcade had a lot more detail on the Blu-Ray, but you can’t really see it in a photo, so I won’t post it here. Jeremy and I looked carefully at this scene and were able to identify the names on some of the machines, for instance, which is impossible using the DVD.

More stark is the difference in this shot from the lightcycles scene, first on DVD:
Tron: Lightcycles on DVD
(See it bigger)

…and on Blu-Ray:
Tron: Lightcycles on Blu-Ray
(See it bigger)

There’s a lot more contrast in this scene on the Blu-Ray version. I think it’s not just a format question, it’s also that they’ve taken a lot more care in remastering the video. But the resolution being better also undoubtedly helps, and this is particularly noticeable (on the TV, perhaps not in the photos) with the grid lines.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The DVD was from before the sequel movie was made, and it’s entirely possible that not a great deal of care was taken in the mastering. In comparison it appears they took a lot of care on the Blu-Ray version. It’s entirely possible that the current edition DVD is better.
  • These comparisons were snapped off my TV with a camera, with the blinds drawn to reduce light. The snapshots were not taken under ideal conditions. (I don’t currently have any Blu-Ray drives in a computer, so I’m unable to grab a Blu-Ray image directly.) As noted above, it’s difficult to convey the difference seen on the TV in a photo.
  • I’ve used the freeze frame, which may impact the picture.

There’s no denying the higher quality of Blu-Ray, even on an 80cm screen.

Question is, which movies or TV would I consider worthy of upgrade, and at what cost? I can’t see myself shelling how lots of money for discs of movies I already own. But for future purchases, I’d certainly lean towards the newer format if the price is not prohibitive.

(I did find The Life Of Brian on Blu-Ray, with lots of extras, for $8 yesterday at K-Mart.)

Dear retailers, when prices are 60% cheaper offshore, GST won’t save you

Amazon packageTough talk from the retailers, who continue to demand GST be applied to all purchases.

It’s rubbish of course. 10% GST is not why people are shopping online.

Let’s take the example of my last Amazon UK order, which I placed when the AU dollar was at its height, about two weeks ago.

  • Book: Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere”. UKP 4.46 (AU $6.96). Cheapest AUD price (via Booko, looking only at Australian outlets) $15.95
  • Book: “Wiped! Doctor Who’s Missing Episodes”. UKP 12.69 (AU $19.81). Cheapest AUD price (via Booko, looking only at Australian outlets) $27.51
  • DVD: Red Dwarf series 1. UKP 4.58 (AU $7.15). Cheapest AUD price (via DVD Plaza, excluding postage) $35.55.
  • DVD: Red Dwarf series 2. UKP 4.58 (AU $7.15). Cheapest AUD price $35.55.
  • DVD: Red Dwarf series 5. UKP 4.17 (AU $6.51). Cheapest AUD price $35.55.

So, the total Amazon order cost was UKP 30.48 (AU $46.87 — may not match prices above because this is what I actually paid; above is the UK price I paid, converted using the exchange rate from a couple of days ago), and because it was more than UKP 25, I got free postage.

The total Australian retail price if I’d bought from the above, and assuming I’d been able to get the cheapest online DVD price at a retail outlet (and therefore avoided paying for postage) would be AU $150.11.

In other words, ordering online was less than a third of the cost of buying locally.

Now, of course this is influenced by many of the products originating with UK publishers. But even so, we’re talking about a factor of three.

Even if the AUD to UKP fell back to, say, 50 cents to the pound, and even if 10% GST was applied to everything, it’d still come out at AU $67.06; still less than half the Australian retail price.

So, sorry Australian retailers. GST is not the problem here. The whole pricing model (including the publishers and distributors) needs looking at if you want to get competitive.

Where bricks and mortar retailers should have an advantage

Bryant & May towerI would note that the Wiped! book has a printing error. Pages 33-48 inclusive are missing. I’m going to need to return it.

Obviously this’d be much easier if it had been bought retail, but I’ll be interested to see how Amazon UK handle it. I know that earlier in the year, SendIt.com sent my cousin in the UK an incorrect birthday gift (some book about WW2 instead of the Donkey Kong Country game we’d ordered for him), and there was some difficulty in getting it all resolved (in fact I’m not even sure if it was all resolved).

Retailers’ advantage is in customer service, particularly in cases like this where things go wrong. Face-to-face service can be worth a lot, and could help save market share. But only if they can figure out how to actually provide good face-to-face service.

Online vs local

I find it a little difficult to accept the big retailers’ claims that ensuring GST is applied to mail order goods ordered online from overseas will make a big difference. GST is only 10%.

Take for example the DVD of Edge of Darkness, which I mentioned the other day.

Amazon UK price: 3.97 + 3.68 postage = 7.65, or A$12.18 (and note that more than half the postage cost is a “per delivery” charge, so it’s cheaper to order more items at once).

Cheapest price shown on DVD Plaza’s Pricecrawler: A$24.45

(It’s also notable that the version most local etailers are selling appears to be the no-extras version; Amazon has the 2003 edition with a number of special features. And yes, it matters, at least to me. I’m a sucker for that stuff.)

An Age article the other day noted that most Australian bestselling books are in fact cheaper if bought locally. That may be significant if a lot of the books you buy are Australian bestsellers, which I expect includes a number of locally published books.

But that’s not usually the type of stuff I buy.

Ultimately shopping around is the way to go. For the stuff I buy, often it’s cheaper if bought off-shore. And it’s not a 10% GST difference, either… If that’s the only difference, I’m likely to buy it locally so I can have it immediately.

But if it’s a big difference as in the above example, and I don’t need it straight away, then sorry, my wallet tells me I should buy off-shore.