I am a customer of US eyeglasses company, GOGGLES4U. They have an impressive website that’s easy to find your way around, a huge inventory of frames and a slick system for entering your glasses prescription plus other necessary measurements. They have a live text chat service that is helpful and even operates after US hours.
I placed an order last night, following a recommendation from my brother. He got his glasses less than two weeks after placing an order, and was very happy with the quality.
You’d think this “super store” would be a substantial operation, but you’d be wrong. I looked up their corporate headquarters with Google Streetview, and it’s just an ordinary suburban house in Los Angeles.
I don’t know how many people work in the operation, but there sure can’t be many at HQ. The live help is probably done elsewhere by home workers. Actual production and distribution is certainly outsourced – the glasses are made in Pakistan and posted from there.
All I wanted was a basic pair of no-frills reading glasses. They cost me NZ$55, including freight. That was high, because I had to go off-standard to allow for a fairly extreme prescription in one of my eyes. Otherwise I would have paid NZ$21.
I needed an up-to-date prescription, but fortunately I had one. Even so, in the past I’ve paid for an eye-test before ordering from a US mailorder place, and still saved plenty of money.
I’m by no means the only Kiwi who buys glasses offshore. This sort of activity upsets New Zealand retailers, who have been lobbying to have GST applied to such imports (at present it is not levied on goods valued at under $400). But even if this lobbying succeeds, an extra 15% is unlikely to stop people importing glasses, and other small consumer items such as books, electronics and software. And retailers would get none of the GST collected.
Less sour grapes and more realistic pricing might help our retailers more.
While retailer lobbying seems to be making some headway with the Government, there is still the problem of how to collect the tax. Most people pay for goods with PayPal, and PayPal would have to be persuaded to collect and hand over the GST. It’s not something PayPal does and I can’t see the our government persuading them to make an exception for New Zealand. I hope not anyway!
I think it more likely that PayPal would stop servicing New Zealand altogether, rather than have the hassle of administering GST on rats and mice transactions. That would be sad.