Rip-off Britain

Here’s an imaginary scenario. An IT-literate marketing profess-ional leaves his company to go freelance. He purchases a Dell notebook, because he knows he’ll spend a lot of time on the road. He buys a copy of Microsoft Office, a Sony DSC-W5 digital camera to prepare quick product photos for literature and presentations, a copy of Adobe Creative Suite 2 to add some visual gloss to his publicity material, and an Epson Stylus Photo R800 inkjet printer to proof samples. He also orders a 17in Sony TFT monitor, a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse for working from home, plus an HP iPAQ hx4700 to keep him organised while he’s away. Altogether, this costs him £3,599.

Rip-off Britain

Across the pond, a Wisconsin marketing executive does exactly the same thing. His outlay is $4,663. In pounds, this is approximately £2,518. Even given the weak dollar, this is a huge discrepancy. Welcome to rip-off Britain.

None of this is news to the PC Pro reader. You’re used to getting new technology later than your American friends and paying pound-for-dollar prices. The manufacturers put it down to localisation costs, local taxes, import duty, the weak dollar and the differences between UK and US distribution channels. But when it comes to it, you simply pay over the odds for IT. There was a time when it didn’t matter – we didn’t know how much things cost in the US – but thanks to the wonders of Internet shopping, anyone in Britain can look at Amazon or Circuit City and compare prices directly. What’s more, if it’s worth your while, you can order direct from the US and save yourself some cash and, perhaps, a long wait.

This doesn’t just affect individual consumers. The high price of UK IT hits companies just as hard, and that means there are even bigger savings to be made. Of course, this comes with a heavy caveat. In terms of warranties and support, buying from abroad is a risk. You may find yourself without technical assistance later on, or discover you can get it only from the US supplier at vast expense in phone calls or postage. For an individual user, this may be a risk worth taking, but when a whole team relies on a software package, or an item of equipment, it pays to be careful.

It isn’t always easy, and it won’t always save you money, but this feature will explore the benefits and pitfalls of importing hardware and software from the US, so you can decide for yourself. Say goodbye to rip-off Britain and hello to a world of smarter shopping.


For the purposes of this feature, we surveyed prices across a range of popular products, including several from our A List, from various UK and US sources. In the UK, we chose Amazon, and, where available, the manufacturer’s own online store.

We then found prices for the same product from Amazon, – a big US retailer – and the manufacturer’s US site. At the time of writing, the dollar was hovering at around £0.54. This is a weak rate, but even so our results show some astonishing discrepancies.

For example, why buy an HP iPAQ hx4700 in the UK when it will cost you around £140 less in the US? For a Canon EOS 350D camera, you’d be around £149 better off if you buy stateside. We pay a good £50 more for a new 30GB iPod photo than our lucky American cousins, and nearly £400 more for our A-Listed HP LaserJet 4350dtn printer. This doesn’t include shipping or import duties, but it does include US sales taxes.

If that sounds bad, it’s nothing compared to the prices we pay for software. A new, non-upgrade copy of Adobe Photoshop CS2 will cost anywhere upwards of £450 in the UK. In the US, it’s available for the equivalent of £302. But the biggest discrepancy can be found in Adobe’s own online stores. If you go to Adobe’s UK site and download the package it will cost you £538. From Adobe’s US store, it’s a snip at $599 (roughly £323). That’s £215 more to download essentially the same data. Not that Adobe is the only culprit when it comes to high-cost software. We pay a good £130 more than the Americans for Windows XP Professional and around £140 more for Office Professional. Are we being taken for a ride?

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