It sucks to live in a country where the cost of gadgets relative to purchasing power is very high, and it sucks even more that the cost of gadgets is simply high — higher even than prices of the same gadgets in richer, neighboring countries.

Treo 680 prices in the Philippines and in the US

Take the recently launched Palm Treo 680. The unlocked version sells for $399 in the US, and for P29,800 in Manila. That’s a whopping 54% difference. Moving a little closer to home, an entry-level Apple MacBook Pro sells for S$3,488 in Singapore and for HK$15,400 in Hong Kong, or roughly between P96,000 and P110,000 based on today’s exchange rate. The SRP here in Manila? A whopping P123,190. The price difference is so ridiculous that a person who’s in urgent need of one can hop onto a P999 Cebu Pacific morning flight to Singapore, purchase one at full price in Funan IT Mall or Sim Lim Square, and then be back by the evening of the same day with a few thousand pesos still left in his pocket compared to buying the same laptop here.

What accounts for the price difference? I asked a retailer friend that question, and he rattled off the following additional costs: VAT (currently at 12%), import and freight duties, and a few other taxes that usually jack up the price by as much as 20% to 30%. And he lamented that even when importers have their papers all in order and have paid all above-board fees, they often have to shell out still more money just to get their shipments released on time.

This situation is so anti-consumer in the sense that buyers are required to shoulder additional costs without getting any additional benefits — local after sales service isn’t exactly reliable and convenient for many kinds of products. Which leads to the question: Is there any merit to buying locally instead of having a relative buy it for you abroad? After all, even for a small ticket item like the iPod shuffle, the discounted price offered by a friend who owns a gadget store was still about 20% more expensive than the full retail price of the iPod shuffle in Singapore.

Sure, there’s the patriotic argument: support local dealers, keep the money flowing in the local economy, etc., but you have to be a bit of a masochist to keep paying higher prices without really getting anything in return. I have friends who are into this kind of business but, sad to say, I can’t find a really convincing argument, from the consumer’s point of view, to keep buying gadgets from them instead of just asking HK or Singapore-bound friends to pick up those same items for me. Is there one?