Gouged. Ripped off. Taken for a ride. Whatever your term of choice, it’s clear that’s what is happening to Australian consumers.

Crikey had a massive response to its call for more examples of the huge differential between local and overseas pricing for the same goods. The range of products was extraordinary –from the $100,000-plus mark-up on the Tesla electric car reported by AutoblogGreen to the cans of Coke selling online from a New York outlet for a quarter of the price available from Coles. But there some brands and products recurred repeatedly…

Shoes. These are by now the classic example of how it’s far cheaper to buy online in Australia, with shoppers often able to buy shoes for a third of the price online that they can here. Because most footwear is manufactured in the same countries in Asia and South East Asia, the disparity is particularly hard to justify. Reader after reader sent through examples of how much cheaper runners are online.

But the problem extends, predictably, to more specialist footwear. A nurse who relies on a certain brand of footwear to keep arthritis at bay gets them online for half the price she can from Rebel Sport. Stockport business shoes half the price even of local online outlets when purchased direct from the US. Hiking boots from Amazon UK or US stores again for half or less from local outlets like Kathmandu. Platform shoes for less than a third of the price.

Cosmetics. “Savvy Aussie women have long been writing their lists and doing all their cosmetics shopping in the States and now ordering online,” wrote one reader. Again, the price differences are huge. Clinique’s Dramatically Different Moisturising Gel is under $25 in the US, up to three times that here. Christian Dior, Bobby Brown and YSL products half or two-thirds as expensive online. MAC products half the price online.

Adobe software. Judging by our emails there are a lot of disgruntled Adobe users out there deeply unhappy about the mark-up Adobe imposes on Australian users to download products like CS5. Renai Le May at ZDNet has already written on this.

Ski gear. Lots of emails on this, with the recurring theme that prices were half online what they were locally, prompting people to risk poor fit to get significantly cheaper boots and goggles.

In terms of volume of emails, Apple is the biggest offender, and its pricing policy on iTunes has already attracted considerable media attention. A couple of people noted that iTunes prices in Australia are in the hands of the record companies, not Apple. But most of the responses pointed out big differences in Apple hardware prices, with the cost iPads — $589 on the US Apple site, $689 here — a recurring complaint. Reader Dave Lennon pointed out that, once you include the sales tax applied in some US states (the applicability of state sales taxes in the US to online retailing is a separate and interesting issue, given Amazon is engaged in a legal war with New York State over that very issue), the price differential shrinks significantly, though not fully.

Other differences are less explicable. There’s a $200 difference between base level iMacs on the US and Australian site, and one reader pointed out that locally Apple had recently increased the price of its base level Macbook Air by $200 at a time when the Australian dollar has been surging. Several calls and emails to Apple’s local media contacts this morning all went unanswered.

Another reader pointed out that the differential wasn’t as simple as it looked, suggesting a range of factors like US state taxes, differences between US domestic and export prices, the need for local testing and certification processes for electrical goods and the lack of warranties.

The other recurring theme from readers who had challenged local retailers on high prices is the refusal of manufacturers to allow competition with retail outlets, which local online retailers have persistently encountered. And Dave Lennon wondered about whether the gouge start here or overseas — do local subsidiaries pay more to import products from parent companies, because the latter know Australians are used to paying over the odds, or do the local subsidiaries buy low and sell high? That’s of more than academic interest, because it bears directly on how much taxes local subsidiaries pay.

Finally, Booko’s Blogo, run by Melbourne’s Dan Milne, is another blog that has been reporting glaring price differentials across a range of products.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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