THE IMPORTED ATARI
Points for puchase north of the border
by WARWICK WAKEMAN
Caveat emptor ("let the buyer beware") is the most reasonable guideline for Canadian consumers who import computer wares from the United States (or "across the line" as we Canadians say). Considerable caution is called for, because consumer protection laws and custumer services don't necessarily apply in international deals. Even so, many Canadian buyers still choose to bypass local outlets in favor of purchasing computer equipment in the U.S. The primary reasons for this are clear: lower prices and greater product availability.
THE GIANT TO THE SOUTH
There is no question that, even with the addition of customs duties, applicable taxes, and shipping costs, some computer goods can still be purchased by Canadians at great savings outside of Canada. In the giant U.S. marketplace, for example, discount-house competition, price wars and bargain-basement sales combine to force prices down. Canada, on the other hand, relatively primitive marketing practices and a lack of competition (Atari has only one distributor here) keep prices high.
THE BANES OF CANADIAN COMPUTERIST
Another factor that contributes to higher prices is Canada's status as a bilingual country. Under certain circumstan information in both French and English must appear on product labels. The expense of double labelling discourages some U.S. manufacturers and Canadian importers from serving this market.
Availability is another element that prompts Canadians to investigate "non-commercial" importing. The size of a market dictates both product variety and quantity, and if the home market (as in Canada's case) is relatively small and the demand for particular items (such as Atari computers) is relatively low, the consumer with special needs may be forced to buy elsewhere. In addition, new products sometimes appear on the U.S. scene months before reaching Canadian markets - a merchandising idiosyncrasy that Atari and other manufacturers would do well to address.
Amateur importers must solve many new and interesting problems if they are to successfully import products that suit their needs and pocketbooks. The primary considerations at this point are the added costs of importation, the availability of after-sales service and the guarantee of at least some degree of consumer protection. Let's look at these important issues one at a time.
To determine the actual cost of importing goods from the United States into Canada, you must examine the following: the U.S. price, currency exchange rates between the two countries, duties, Federal sales taxes, excise taxes (if any) and shipping costs. Table 1 focuses on an Atari 1025 printer; it should be used only as a general guide and is not intended to show all the actual costs involved!
Table 1 Cost of imorting an Atari 1025 U.S. price $399 Canadian equivalent (+23%) 491 Duty ($firstname.lastname@example.org%) 19 Total duty paid value 510 Federal sales tax ($510 @ 9%) 46 Subtotal 556 Excise tax 0 Cost before shipping 556 Shipping (United parcel Service) 34 Landed cost in Canadian funds $590You can reduce your shipping costs somewhat if you actually travel across the border and bring back the goods yourself. Vacationers, for example, can often qualify for exemptions, depending on the length of time they are out of the country. Check with Customs before you travel. It is a good idea to obtain information about exemptions and entry numbers for your intended purchases before you make the trip (see examples in Table 2). This will save you time and inconvenience when you return.
Table 2 Canadian cusfoms information Item Duty Rate!(1) Sales Tax Entry Number CPU's 3.9% 9% 41417-1 Monitors 3.9% 9% 41417-1 Disk drives Free 9% 41417-2 Printers Free 9% 41417-2 modems 12.9% 9% 44506-1 Software (disk) Free(2) 9%(2) 41417-2 Software (tape) 3.9%(2) 9%(2) 41417-1 (1)These rates apply as of January 1, 1984. (2) Software falls into two categories. "Application" software is liable for duty and sales tax on the cost of the tape or diak alone; for "operations" or "systems" software, the total cost of the software is liable. Check with Customs for details before you buy.DON'T CHEAT!
A word of warning: Don't be tempted to cheat! If you do not declare goods that you are bringing into the country or if you make a false declaration, you are subject to a number of unpleasant consequences, not the least of which is the possible seizure and forfeiture of the vehicle you use to transport the goods. The least that you can expect is to pay extra duty on the goods, and to have your name placed on file for future reference. The technical term for this offense: smuggling.
What happens if your imported Atari hardware needs service? First of all, the warranty is not valid in Canada and your local Atari service center will not repair it unless you're willing to $399 pay the going labor rate ($50 an hour) and pay for the required parts. Sending it back to the seller for repair is also far from an ideal answer to the problem, as it is often both inconvenient and costly. You are liable for shipping charges, and you may also have to pay additional customs charges or taxes. Check with the Remission Section of Canada Customs before making a move. To forestall such a dilemma, remember to test the unit you are purchasing beforehand if you are physically present at the point of purchase. It can't hurt.
A popular misconception holds that a seller is obliged by law to accept the return of an item by a dissatisfied customer for any reason or for no reason at all. However, no such obligation exists unless it is specifically agreed to by both buyer and seller in a contract. The merchant does have a legal obligation to abide by his advertised claims and to honor the sales terms he's agreed to.
This doesn't guarantee customer satisfaction, of course, but in the vast majority of cases these guidelines work fairly well. And, fortunately, other avenues of help are also available to those customers who are unable to get a satisfactory response from a foreign dealer.
Contacting your local Better Business Bureau is probably your best first bet after you've given up hope of gaining satisfaction directly from the dealer. They'll investigate the situation through their office in (or closest to) the seller's area. Another possible route is to contact the Chamber of Commerce, but in this case you'll have to contact the branch in the seller's city (its Canadian counterpart will not get involved in consumer complaints). A third recourse is to write the conumer department of the relevant state. About 40 U.S. states have such departments, but the services they provide may vary in quality. Your last and least option is litigation, which is another inconvenient and costly business.
WHY DO IT?
Despite all these problems, many Canadian consumers continue to put up with the hassles involved in buying computer equipment in the U.S. or in other foreign countries. After all, lower prices and the sense of satisfaction that comes from owning a computer or peripheral device that is not available locally are very attractive, and many computer buffs find it hard to resist the lure. I hope that this article will help any ANTIC readers who find themselves in this position.
Warwick Wakeman, a freelance writer who covers the computer field, lives in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Besides being our Canadian connection, he helped coordinate international input into our international issue.