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Resist the call of duty

CHOICE’s price comparison shows it’s best to shop around before you take off

19 September 2013

CHOICE’s spot check has found nine out of thirteen* products were more expensive in duty-free than from major Australian retailers and e-retailers. In fact, it appears that deluxe sized bottles of liquor are the only consistently less expensive product in duty-free shops**. The findings challenge consumer perceptions that duty-free shopping is great value all around. 

“The temptation of gleaming showrooms lined with perfumes, cosmetics and alcohol can be hard to resist when in the spendthrift mode of international travel, but a quick price comparison via your smartphone could diminish temptation to spend up large,” says CHOICE Head of Media Tom Godfrey.
In August CHOICE did a spot check and compared online prices at Sydney and Melbourne International terminal duty-free shops with online prices for the same products at a range of major Australian retailers and e-tailers.

“Consumers need to remember that shopping duty-free may not guarantee the best deal on the market, and a quick price comparison could leave you with extra dollars in your pocket. There is a perception that duty-free is less expensive and this is not always the case.”

“There are certainly great deals to be found in duty-free however running price comparisons can highlight if it is the best price on the market. Our spot check found the Samsung Galaxy Note II smartphone to be 10% cheaper when purchased from Harvey Norman in store, rather than Sydney or Melbourne duty-free. Clinique’s Youth Surge Age Decelerating Moisturiser was 16% cheaper when purchased at cosmeticsnow.com.au - including shipping,” says Mr Godfrey.

The government’s Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS) can be a better option when travelling overseas, since it allows you to get the best price at a regular retailer then claim the GST refund at the airport. The refund only applies to things you wear or carry to the airport and excludes liquor (except wine).

Duty-free retailers are owned by a company called The Nuance Group. While duty-free has an air of officialdom about it, the only thing that is truly official is that you buy without paying tax or import duty. The businesses themselves are private operations licensed by the Australian Tax Office. In 2012, The Nuance group generated $570m in revenue.

The company’s sales director Neil Johnson rejected CHOICE’s exercise, asserting that using store websites to make price comparisons isn’t a valid approach since the authenticity of the products couldn’t be verified.
** CHOICE didn’t price compare tobacco products.

CHOICE tips

  • Do a quick price comparison via smart phone before paying for products or services
  • Duty-free deals can vary greatly from day to day so keep an eye on prices online to ensure you’re getting the best deal
  • Use the Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS) which allows you to get the best price at a regular retail store and then claim the GST refund at the airport
* Over the course of six business days in August, we compared online prices at the Sydney and Melbourne international terminal duty-free shops with online prices for the same products at a range of regular retailers and e-retailers, including Vintage Cellars, Dan Murphy’s, Woolworths, Nike, Dick Smith and amazon.com. Shipping costs are included when applicable.


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