1 May 2018

Choice beats out GST for internet shoppers

9:10 pm on 1 May 2018

By Paul Brislen

Opinion - Every day or so a parcel is left propped up against my garage door.

In it is usually something for someone else in my household, so I pay it no attention. If they're lucky, I move it to one side before backing the car out. Sometimes.

A man shops online.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Typically these parcels are from some online shopping site - probably AliExpress or somesuch - and they will contain half a dozen phone cases or three or six t-shirts. Oh wait, those T-shirts are for me.

All of these items were bought online - and yes, these are actual purchases - and all of them were bought online for one reason: availability (except the cables, but more on those later).

The T-shirts I bought aren't available in New Zealand. The phone cases my kids bought aren't available in New Zealand. There just isn't the range, because we don't have the population - but that's okay, that's what the internet is for. Suddenly we're only a click away from dozens, if not hundreds, of options.

Take the phone cases - AliExpress currently has seven pages of phone cases that match my kids' needs: each page has 20 cases so that's 140 cases to chose from. Last time we were at the mall there were six.

Take my T-shirts. I love T-shirts. I love the design and being part of the tribe.

I have a T-shirt that has a picture on it that triggers a certain response from those who know what that character represents and I get to shout, "Pervert!" at them and we laugh and bond and it's cool. It's a picture of a fox. You may not get it.

I cannot buy these T-shirts in New Zealand but equally, the T-shirts I can buy in New Zealand are far more expensive even when I add in the cost of shipping.

In fact, there's one thing that does not guide my shopping preferences and that's whether or not I'm paying GST. It just doesn't factor in. Availability, range, price, delivery costs, delivery times, and then maybe GST - but mostly not.

The phone cables, for example, I can pick up locally for $30 each. I've seen them at $18 and got all giddy with excitement.

On the internet I can buy them for around $2 each and if we add in the GST I can probably get them for around $2.25 (they'll round up - retailers always do). That's miles away from the recommended retail price so why would I buy them locally? It's just a cable.

And then there's the hassle factor. As a friend pointed out, when you're in store buying a product, nine times out of 10 it's more hassle than value. Shop assistants who don't know what the company sells, or who can't find them, or who can't answer your questions, or who treat you like you're stupid.

Weigh that up with sitting in your own lounge, doing some research and clicking on a 'buy now' button. I know which I prefer.

I suspect the move to charge GST on internet sales was sparked by the best of intentions - levelling the playing field for local retailers - and I totally get that. But that 15 percent isn't a deal breaker for many, and so if local shops want shoppers to keep coming in, they're going to have to do more than just put products on shelves.

Will I pay the GST on imported goods? Happily. Will it make me change my buying habits? Not a jot.

* Paul Brislen is a technology commentator and lover of T-shirts.

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