Every now and again a report comes along that confirms what we already know, but is no less welcome for it. A study by the European Consumer Centre (ECC) on the discriminatory business practices faced by Irish shoppers is one such publication. Short version: we are being ripped off.
The ECC has found that Irish consumers are the third most likely in Europe (behind the Austrians and Italians) to complain about problems such as being unable to buy a product or access a service originating from another member state or being forced to pay more for the pleasure of doing so.
The latter is a phenomenon that has been thrown into sharp relief by the weakening of sterling versus the euro, but it is an issue that has long vexed Irish shoppers. Why are they are being gouged by UK retailers, both online and in physical stores?
For larger items the difference in pricing can run into the hundreds of euro, but it is in the small, everyday items – where both currencies are stated on the price tag – that we can get a sense of the extensive scale of the practice.
Take, for example, a roll of velvety red ribbon, ideal for wrapping those Christmas presents that you have successfully managed to procure from a popular UK retailer (possibly with a fat delivery charge on top).
The private equity-owned Paperchase chain, which originated in Britain, sells such ribbon for £2.50 in the UK, but €4 in the euro zone. That’s about €1 more than the currency translation suggests it should be – an inconsequential sum, perhaps, to an individual consumer, but one that multiplies into a gift of a margin for a retailer.
Shoppers are not stupid. The ECC’s report highlights the case of a clothes shopper who tried to get around a rather dramatic sterling-euro price difference (a dress priced at £95/€155) by giving a UK address for delivery. She was told that as she was using an Irish credit card and clearly lived in Ireland, she would have to pay the higher price.
The EU-wide ECC-Net organisation, which concludes that consumers too often face unjustified restrictions on cross-border shopping, is pushing for greater compliance with EU consumer law and single market rules. In the meantime, the simplest way to combat the bad taste left by the sterling exploiters is to avoid them and stick to euro zone retailers – and that includes buying Irish.