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Sunday 23 April 2017

Brexit bargains are a real Christmas gift

Sterling slump means shoppers can save big by buying in the North and online

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

John Cradden

It might be a bit early to be thinking about your Christmas shopping but with all the palaver over Brexit and the resulting collapse in the strength of sterling, now is a good time to investigate the huge potential for savings by doing some of your shopping north of the Border.

Thousands of others are likely to do the same, with anecdotal reports suggesting that car parks in Derry, Newry and even Belfast are already beginning to fill up with shoppers from the Republic.

The last time cross-border shopping was this popular was in late 2008, when sterling dropped to a record low against the euro, breaking through the 95p level. That year, around €550m was spent in the North by shoppers from the Republic.

Back then there was plenty of debate - including in the Dail - about the failure of retailers here to pass on savings as a result of weaker sterling. Eight years later, a comparison of the prices of some popular items on sale by the same store in both jurisdictions suggests that the issue is likely to be hotly-debated again.

Snap bargains

A Canon EOS 100D, a popular entry-level DSLR camera, retails at €425 at Argos.ie but just £339 (€380) at an Argos UK store - a €45 saving. A Lego City Volcano Exploration base set will cost you €75 from a Smyths store in Dublin, but £55 (€61) from Smyths in Newry - a €14 saving.

Apple's iPad Mini 2 (32GB) is available for €309 from Currys in Sligo or £239 (€266) from Currys store in Derry - a €43 saving.

However, it's worth noting that the tech giant recently announced UK price hikes for its entire laptop range in an apparent bid to counteract currency fluctuations since Brexit. Among the changes, the 13-inch MacBook - the cheapest laptop Apple sells and which dates from 2015 - rose in price from £849 to £949, while the high-powered Mac Pro desktop jumped from £2,499 to £2,999.

But search hard, and you might find items on sale here that match or even beat prices in the UK. One reader told the Sunday Independent that he recently bought a Sonos Play 3 wireless speaker system from Dixons at Dublin Airport for €252, a product that retails for around £250 (€282) in Currys UK (which owns Dixons).

But if you consider the high likelihood of savings across the board, including groceries, you may well consider a trip up North to stock up on Christmas food and drink to be no-brainer. For instance, a 500g tub of Tesco Finest Cornish Custard costs €3.50 in a Republic of Ireland Tesco outlet sells for £1.80 (€2) in a store across the Border.

A 300g tin of McVities Victoria biscuit selection costs €10.45 in your local Tesco while a 650g tin of the same biscuits is selling for £5.00 (€5.60) in Tesco in Northern Ireland. A jumbo pack of Pampers Premium Protection New Baby nappies will set you back €13 in a SuperValu store in the Republic but £8 (€8.90) in an Asda store in the North.

On the alcohol front, a 75cl bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream retails at €16.49 at SuperValu, while Asda is selling the same bottle for £8 (€8.90). Indeed, there are significant savings to be made if you intend hosting a party or two. A box of 20 Coors Light 330cl beers costs €24 in Tesco in the Republic, but £13 (€14.50) in a store in the North.

Hassle factor

But before you jump into the car or catch the bus or train, you should probably consider the cost and hassle factors.

"Taking petrol, tolls and, most importantly, time into consideration the advantages of a 25pc increase in the value of the euro against sterling can suddenly dissipate when you take all these aspects into the mix," said financial advisor John Lowe of The Money Doctor.

Indeed, there were quite a few horror stories from 2008 of three-hour queues to get into Newry, not including the time spent looking for parking.

Last year, Belfast City Council offered 1,500 free car park spaces in the city centre during the Christmas shopping season, but just last month councillors voted to scrap this after the main bus operator, Translink, complained.

Obviously, if you live in the Border counties, it's a short enough hop but if you're travelling from the Leinster area or anywhere further south, it may make less sense.

Prices for an adult day return train ticket from Dublin to Newry or Belfast start at €30 per adult, while the bus for the same journey will cost about €20 per adult.

But even if you can't be bothered traipsing to the North to fill up your bags or car with Christmas bargains, there are many other savings to be had by shopping online on the UK websites of companies that have stores in the Republic of Ireland.

A pair of Clarks Denny Diva black mid-heel boots is €91 on Debenhams.ie, but £65 (€72) from Debenhams.co.uk - a €19 saving.

If you buy an item worth more than £50 from Debenhams' UK website, you'll get free international delivery.

However, not all stores will deliver to the Republic from a UK base, or there may be a delivery fee that might cut into the saving you'd otherwise make on the deal, particularly for cheaper items. If that's the case, you can get around this by using a service like Parcel Motel, which allows you to purchase with a UK address and have them delivered to a collection point.

Commissions and charges

Whether you travel across the Border on a shopping trip or do it online, there's also the small matter of the exchange rate and commission charges, said Lowe. "Many are unaware that there are two rates when you exchange your euro for sterling - buy and sell. If the current rate is say 90 pence to the euro, you might be given less sterling when buying and less euro when you are selling. Always check rates before transacting. There are differences between the providers."

Indeed, if you shop online with a British retailer and it offers you the chance to pay in euro rather than pounds, you'd be better off sticking with sterling as it is unlikely that a retailer will pass on exchange rate fluctuations in good time.

For instance, Planet X Bikes, a popular online bicycle maker that sells direct, has several bikes on offer for £999 but if you opt to pay for one in euro, the website will convert the price to €1240. At the time of writing, £999 was worth €1114 - a difference of over €120.

"You would still be better off checking what exchange rates are being offered before you pay over, as the bigger shops might just be more competitive," said Lowe. Using your credit card and even debit card can also be expensive, with the additional charges, including a currency conversion fee that may or may not be in your favour.

Lowe recommends An Post's FX Card. With this card, you buy your sterling here and it's lodged into a pre-paid MasterCard card. The maximum amount you can hold in this card is £5,000 (around €5,550 ). "Rates are reasonable when buying and there are no commission charges. Unlike a credit card, you can only spend what's in it."

The sometimes stark price differentials between north and south of the Border - particularly with the same retailers - are not just down to a failure to pass on changing exchange rates to customers. Transportation costs, VAT and excise, labour, commercial rents and energy charges are also likely to play a part.

At least a few of us may struggle with a decision to head North and deprive retailers here with much-needed revenue at their busiest and most important period of the year.

Gillian Hamill, editor of retail trade magazine Shelflife, said: "While everyone is, of course, entitled to spend their money where and when they choose, it is nevertheless important to make an informed decision."

She points to a study by economist Jim Power on behalf of retail trade association RGDATA which estimates that for every €100 euro spent in a locally owned shop, €250 is injected into the local economy.

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