Give me a dollar!

Written by Brett Thomas

March 24, 2007 | 12:00

Tags: #canada #currency #customs #exchange #export #import #lik-sang #rip-off-britain #rob

Companies: #europe

You know what, I like money. "Root of all evil" be damned, I like it. I should - I certainly work hard enough for it. But money is great, you know? It can't buy happiness, that is true. But it can buy me lots of other stuff that contributes to that happiness.

Sometimes. And other times, you can't even beg people to take your money.

It wasn't all that long ago that I wrote an article entitled "The Technology of Money." But technology, whether it's your banking, your online purchase or that dude behind the counter, has its weaknesses. Sometimes it crashes. Other times, though, it seems almost flawed by design.

For example, my friend Henry (who, much like Richard, is a frequent source of interesting discussion) wanted to buy a laptop. Unfortunately, he lives in Canada...did anyone know how disconnected Canada is from my dear USA?

Apparently, despite all of that unfenced border, it must be very hard to get a package over to there. Probably on account of all the moose. It has to be, because that's the only way I can explain the 50% increase in price after currency exchange (which is already not in his favour). And he could not buy it from the US version of the company... No, his credit card was foreign. Henry, you bad Canadian, you.

When Henry explained this predicament to me, I did what any good friend would do - I offered to illegally traffic the device to him for the small price of some awesome white tea that we don't get here in the States. At least not without paying an arm and a leg, that is. Lik Sang never cut a better deal - he'll get his laptop, I'll get some tea for my trouble of having to deal with the dude at the US Post Office trying to explain the customs forms to me.

So this is it, huh, folks? The grand "Global Economy" at work. A site that doesn't accept foreign credit cards, a distressed bank teller thinking the cheque is dodgy because it's Canadian, a guy at the Post Office explaining weight limits, and a customs form. Hijinks ensue. Yeah, that's global alright - the global premise to a sit-com.

"So this is it, huh, folks? The grand "Global Economy" at work."

I would love to say that this is the only time that it's occurred, but I'd be lying. A lot. Since my time in the employment of bit-tech I've offered my services as an importer/exporter for everything from plastic aquarium plants to the disassembled bulk of a CNC Router. And why? Because the companies either would not accept foreign orders or would not ship internationally without some exorbitant fee (if they did it at all).

Price isn't the only difference when dealing internationally, though. When we had a couple of hard drives die at the office in the UK, were we able to simply call up the manufacturer for an RMA and have them send us some new ones? Of course not. The RMA service in the UK would take weeks - it was less time to ship the drives to me in the US and have new ones shipped back. On top of that, the warranty for those drives was actually quite different than the warranty over here.

In fact, the warranties on several of the products we look at in our day to day differ vastly between the EU and the US. Sometimes they even differ from nation to nation in the EU, along with the large price fluctuation. It's as if every country was so isolated that there is no common business link anymore. It's almost as if the internet didn't really exist - except to offer your local version of the product and price.

Is there some reason that a graphics card here in the US costs only 70% of what it does in the UK, but gets more than twice the warranty? If there is, I have yet to figure it out. There's only so much that can be blamed on customs or VAT, and laws only state minimum warranty periods. It's almost as if they're saying, "Oh, you're from the UK? Your money isn't as good."
And I ask you, dear friend - is this not 2007? We were promised replicators. Flying cars. A lunar colony. None of these things have happened, but I wasn't bitter - we have to take care of more important things here on Earth first, I suppose. But I can't even buy something better than I could ten years ago. In fact, in 1997 I probably had more freedom to buy, return or repair internationally than I do just between states in the US now. Now I am bitter.

Having come from way too many business school brainwashing sessions myself, I understand that certain localities and laws make doing business internationally a little more expensive. Sometimes it's the tax structure, sometimes it's warranty law. I could even buy this excuse were we anywhere in the same ballpark. But it seems like we haven't even found a way to make things relatively comparable. No matter how you slice it, some locations just get screwed.

The very fact that my friends in the UK nickname it "Rip-off Britain" (bloody Rob - we HATE that guy! -ed) is a clear indication that this is more than just a problem localised to one or two products or even companies. Everywhere you look, sites are being restricted to location, shipping only to certain addresses, and changing your warranty based on your nation of origin. They like to call it "localised business" - I like to call it geographical discrimination. Even TV is in on the deal.

I'm not really sure where this metamorphosis happened. One minute, it seemed that we were heading towards free trade and comparable service across the globe, courtesy of the internet. It was possible to take orders from abroad easily, ship products worldwide and provide sites that spoke in any language your customer did. The only big difference between city-to-city and country-to-country was shipping.

"No matter how you slice it, some locations just get screwed."

Now, each company has ten websites to illustrate region-limited product selection and ten tiers of price gouging. Oh, you're in Canada? We have a site and support staff specifically tailored toward you, they even speak Canadian! For that, of course, the price just went up 40%. And if you're British, add another 30% on top of that, but subtract two years of warranty. I guess you Brits must do something horrible to your hardware.

If you attempt to order through a different country's site, you'd better have a credit card and shipping address that ties to the right geographical location. If not, forget it - they'll politely point you to the one you should be using, so you can watch your price jump up and your options decrease. You probably won't even pay any less shipping.

Ah, the joys of globalization - covering the now open trade routes with localised marketing and pricing posters around the world. Companies now have a world of customers, but still only one "right" currency. Now, you're only "global" if you're not large enough to concoct five price tiers and three warranty plans. And about the only guys who give you a halfway fair conversion rate are selling on Ebay.

Fortunately, I have a solution. The companies don't seem to like your money, but I do. I don't even care if it's pounds, yen, or rubles. So every time you go and try to buy something but can't, or have to plop down a fortune for something that should cost you a few pence, send me a dollar in whatever currency you fancy. After all, if you're going to give away your hard-earned money, it might as well be to someone who wants it.
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