Duty-free not always cheapest, Consumer NZ says and lays complaint
Consumer NZ has laid a complaint with the Commerce Commission about duty-free shops.
It has conducted an investigation into pricing, which found that in many cases, shoppers were better off buying from a standard shop than a duty-free outlet.
Of 33 items price-checked, it found New Zealand duty-free stores only had the cheapest price 10 times. Five of those were cosmetics, three were alcohol and two electronics. The rest of the time, standard retail prices were cheaper.
A bottle of Brancott Estate sauvignon blanc wine was selling for $21 duty-free, Consumer NZ said, or $10.99 at Countdown.
Chief executive Sue Chetwin said she was surprised at how expensive spirits were. "They attract so much duty but you can still get a bargain at a liquor store."
A bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey was only $5 cheaper, duty-free.
Standard shops were cheaper for confectionery in each case Consumer NZ tested - a block of Whittaker's Hawke's Bay Black Doris Plum and Roasted Almond chocolate was $6.99 at The Loop Duty Free or $3.99 from the supermarket.
But the watchdog was particularly concerned about the way confectionery was being promoted.
The Commerce Commission lays out terms for the sale of duty-free products on its website.
It said the term implied that goods were cheaper compared to prices charged by other businesses because government-imposed import duties did not apply.
"Tourists and people travelling overseas are entitled to assume that they will get the benefit of this price advantage. Businesses should only use the term if the goods described as duty-free would usually attract import duty, and the price advantage is passed on to the consumer," the commission says.
"The range of goods attracting import duty has declined considerably in recent years, and it is common for duty-free stores to have a mixed stock of goods available both for export and for retail sale. Businesses claiming to make duty-free sales should clearly identify those goods which do not usually attract duty."
Consumer NZ said confectionery prices were inflated at duty-free stores, and it could not find any instances where New Zealand-made items were sold with a disclaimer saying they would not normally have attracted duty, anyway.
"We've laid a complaint with the commission about the pricing of confectionery and the lack of disclaimers on New Zealand-made goods, which in our opinion risk breaching the Fair Trade Act."
Chetwin said she thought it was misleading. "People aren't being told properly what's duty-free and what's not."
She said there was not as much of a saving at duty-free shops as people expected. "People do think 'oh well, I'm going to get all this stuff duty-free' but in reality if you shop around ordinary shops you'll find most things as cheap or cheaper. What's going on with duty-free?"
New Zealand duty-free outlets were approached for comment.