PC.Com – Soapbox: Getting tech gear for cheap… in the UK

Wrote this for PC.Com magazine in Malaysia for their December 2011 issue.  It was eventually pushed back for a February release but here’s my original submission to the editor.

PC dot com magazine MalaysiaThinking about picking up some tech gear for Christmas? Or finally treating yourself to that PC upgrade? It may just be better for you to pick them up from the United Kingdom. That’s right. Despite an exchange rate that’s staying steady at five times the Malaysian Ringgit, many PC components and software are obtainable at far lower prices than what you can usually find them for in Malaysia. It’s not that the regular price is cheaper. It’s because online retailing is fiercely competitive in the UK, with many continually looking to wrest customers from their competitors.

Price matching is a common tactic and highly competitive deals are regularly promoted through online and print media (Steam’s seasonal sales, where popular games can be obtained for up to 90 percent off their Recommended Retail Price, are the stuff of legends). Amazon UK is notable for continually adjusting their prices to match those of their close competitors – there’s even a function on every Amazon UK product page for shoppers to notify them about better deals elsewhere.

A couple of months back, I snapped up a Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 4000 with Bluetrack Technology on sale from one of Amazon’s resellers for only £11 (~RM55). Occasionally, it can be found for £6 (~RM30) if you’re quick enough to spot when the deal comes on. At time of writing, this same mouse is priced at around RM100 and it’s highly unlikely that any Malaysian retailer will ever sell it at a 50 percent discount.

It’s not always tech gear that get heavy discounts. Various accessories can also be gotten for dirt cheap prices if you’re patient and willing to hunt around for the deals. Recently, I was extremely tempted by Belkin iPad leather cases for £5 each. Again, the chances for a Malaysian retailer to sell more than a handful of units (I’m looking at you All IT Hypermart and your ‘limited units’ deals) at RM25 are so low it’s not worth calculating.

While HDD and SSD prices are more similar between Malaysia and the UK, fairly regular special deals tip the balance in favour of buying such items in the UK. One of the best deals I’ve seen for an SSD was a Crucial M4 64GB 2.5” SATA-III SSD which was reduced to £70 (~RM350), a fantastic price for such a high performance drive. In Malaysia, that same SSD is priced at about RM500.

What’s galling about this price differentials between tech gear sold in the UK and in Malaysia, is that many of the components are made in Malaysia or at least, in countries that are closer to Malaysia than the UK. Last year, I bought an AMD Phenom II X4 BE 955 processor in the UK and it had the words “Made in Malaysia” proudly engraved on it. Before I purchased it, I had thought that such items would be cheaper in Malaysia however, when I compared prices for it between UK retailers and Low Yat retailers, there was little difference between the two. In fact, it was better for me to get it in the UK so I could benefit from the warranty.

On the visual side of things, a Dell 23” ST2320L LCD monitor was recently available for about £80 (~RM400) after trading in any old, working monitor. 23” LCD monitors in Malaysia retails from RM500 upwards depending on the brand and its features. So far through this article, I’ve been comparing items that were on sale in the UK at prices that are unlikely to be matched by any Malaysian retailer. What about current non-deal prices?

Note: For this price comparison, we’re assuming an exchange rate of £1 = RM5.

Processor: 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500K | RM599 | £160 (RM800)

Motherboard: MSI P67A-GD65 B3 | RM409 | £113 (RM565)

Memory: Corsair 8GB 1600 CL9 DDR3 | RM349 | £40 (RM200)

PSU: Corsair 650W HX (A/M/80+) | RM500 | £90 (RM450)

Video card: Asus GTX 560 Ti Direct CU II TOP 1GB | RM929 | £185 (RM925)

Cooler: Noctua NH-U12P SE2 CPU | RM249 | £50 (RM255)

Case: Cooler Master HAF 912 | RM 299 | £60 (RM300)

Optical drive: LG 10x BDRW | RM399 | £63 (RM315)

HDD: 1TB Samsung SpinPoint F3 | RM165 | £40 (RM200 – pre-Thailand flood price)

Sound card: Asus Xonar DS RM279 | £40 (RM200)

Total UK cost = £842 (RM4,210)

Total RM cost = RM4,177

Not much of a difference is there? Now add in the fact that when researching the prices for this article I found a bundle for the Asus GTX 560 Ti Direct CU II TOP 1GB with Medal of Honour, Red Faction, and the mega-popular Battlefield 3, all for a mere £194 (RM970) and the difference gets wider. It’s a stunningly hot deal for this well-reviewed graphics card that should carry you smoothly through nearly any game (exception = Crysis 2 in DX11 mode) at oh-so-dreamy resolutions of 1920 x 1080.

It’s highly possible UK online retailers were merely benefiting from a VAT loophole that meant they could charge low prices. In December 2010, the Guardian reported that online retailers were taking advantage of a VAT loophole that enables items below the value of £18 to be shipped VAT-free from countries outside the EU. This may not continue for much longer though as UK authorities move to clamp down on the loophole. On 1 November 2011, the UK Treasury finally responded to pressure from various groups including the Retailers Against VAT Avoidance Schemes, reducing the Low Value Consignment Relief (LCVR) threshold from £18 to £15 for goods moving in and out of the Channel Islands. It’s expected to announce further changes soon to make sure the loophole is properly sealed and to extend the clampdown to Guernsey and Jersey.

Despite this, I think the UK is still the better place for buying tech gear. After all, Amazon UK is looking to continue their Black Friday deals (a US tradition that was imported to the UK last year) after selling out a lot of stock in what seemed like nano-seconds. Amazon posted up over 500 deals in five days including the mega-hot deals like the Nintendo Wii and the Xbox 360 for £50 each. I’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on Amazon UK’s site as Black Friday rolls around on 25 November.

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