Sunday 11 December 2016

Better rush if you want a Brexit tech bargain

Published 30/10/2016 | 02:30

MacBook Pros are now more expensive than ever in Britain
MacBook Pros are now more expensive than ever in Britain

If you want a Brexit tech bargain, you'll have to rush. To be sure, it's been a weird few months. Those travelling north could save €200 on an iPhone, €400 on a laptop and €700 on a camera.

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But last week, Apple introduced a wave of new pricing for British shoppers with its newly-launched MacBook Pro set at £1,749 (€1,943 plus a currency exchange commission fee). It's still cheaper than buying it here (€2,099) but not by nearly the same margin.

(Incidentally, the same new laptop costs €1,645 in the US before sales tax.)

This is happening across the board, with big tech brands forced to hike sterling prices on products in accordance with the slump in the UK currency.

That said, there are still bargains to be had. For instance, if you're fortunate enough to be eyeing up a Leica Q camera (which is, in my view, the best fixed-lens digital camera in the world), you'll still save a whopping €600. It's €3,590 in the UK compared to €4,190 in Ireland and the rest of the EU.

Many bigger-selling items such as headphones are still pitched at the pre-Brexit prices, too. Bose's popular Quietcomfort 35 headphones are €70 cheaper in the UK (€310) than here (€380).

But while niche products, like DJI's Phantom 4 drone (€180 cheaper) and Apple's Series 1 Watch (€40 cheaper), are still less expensive in Britain than here, it's starting to tighten up.

"Our UK prices will be going up fairly soon," said a person in Sony I spoke to last week. "They have to. It's hard explaining it to local customers, but we'll ultimately have no choice."

For Irish electrical retailers, this can't come soon enough. A few I spoke to last week spoke of being "destroyed" by the sterling collapse over the last two months.

"If it were to go on for much longer, we'd have to look at diversifying into something else," one told me.

That said, some tech purchases could remain substantially cheaper in sterling up to, and beyond, Christmas. These are mostly in the products that people tend not to travel for, such as TVs. Right now, PC World sells the same Samsung 4K television for €850 in Ireland but only €665 (before currency conversion fee) in its UK stores. That differential is unlikely to change as quickly as the gap in smaller, more portable devices because fewer Irish people are likely to buy a TV outside their own jurisdiction.

But it will narrow at some point soon. And when it does, it's possible that currency fluctuations will have less of an effect on price differentials going forward.

That's because retailing may be in a seminal changing period anyway, to a permanent online model. In a few years' time, it is hard to see a scenario where offline pricing will determine anything like the same consumer effect that they do now, Brexit or no Brexit.

Last week, Amazon overtook Macy's as America's largest retailer of apparel.

This is because normal people are now starting to turn to online shops first and offline ones as a weekend curiosity. For example, my 14-year-old step-daughter recently went to her first disco. All of the clothes (which are a big deal for a 14-year-old) were researched and bought online from Boohoo.com. And all of her friends did likewise.

The only thing holding a total online retail takeover back is weak mobile payment options: it's still too damn tricky for most people to buy things on a phone, which is where they spend most of their online time. (Ordering on a laptop is easier, but fewer and fewer people want to use laptops in their leisure time anymore.)

This may be one of the main reasons why Irish retailers have continued to sell tech products through the Brexit currency slump even with such a price differential available 100 miles up the road.

But while personal relationships count and are worth paying a premium for (in camera shops, for instance), most of us buy our tech goods in anonymous large warehouse retails such as Currys or Harvey Norman. As we move even more of our life onto web-based devices, it's only a matter of time before all of our tech business goes there too.

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