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Where to buy your snowboard gear
With the rising value of the dollar, buying your snowboard equipment in the UK is more attractive than ever.
When snowboarding first started in the UK, it did so thanks to the passion of a small group of riders and even fewer shops who were taking a gamble on even stocking snowboards. Grand Prix (later to become Boardwise) was one, SS20 was another and there were a number of now defunct shops in Scotland. There was no money in snowboarding, just a whole lot of passion.
In this snowless country, there are a few things holding the fabric of British snowboarding together. One is our artificial dryslopes and indoor real snow facilities, the original catalyst of the British snowboard scene. Another is magazines – the people who got stuck in at the beginning and reported on the fledgling scene as it took it's first faltering steps. And the third is snowboard shops – the ones who put it all on the line to bring snowboard equipment within reach of the average person in this country. Of the three, it's snowboard shops who get the rawest deal. For years, they've been the people pushing local scenes. Supporting riders, putting on events and generally going the extra mile to make things happen. And, now they're getting squeezed by international mail-order outfits who produce slick catalogues and offer low prices, but can't provide a tenth of the service that a real shop can.
The attraction of buying online is that it's supposed to be cheaper – which, if you're lucky, can be true. To put the theory to the test, we went on a quest to buy the Burton Custom – the world's best selling snowboard – from an online operation. The UK price for the Custom is £470, which includes free consultation with the shop – and the opportunity to actually ride the board before buying, where they offer it. We searched the web and found an operation in the USA who are selling the Custom at $560. Until recently, we could expect to get two US dollars to the pound, but with the economic slowdown it's now closer to $1.60. At this exchange rate, the Custom comes in at roughly £350.
Air freight from the US comes in at a whopping $100 via UPS, which brings the total to £415. Still, that's £55 cheaper than the UK price. Shipping is quick – and it should be for that kind of money – and our air freighted board should arrive within three days. But before we could set up our new stick, we'd be faced with a customs bill from the UPS man, which has to be paid before he'll even give us the package. In an additional little con, UPS charge an additional £10-20 for a 'Customs Handling Charge' – essentially, they pay the customs charge as your package comes in the country and then charge you a fee for doing so!
The way that import duty works is a little confusing. You have to pay duty at 3% on a snowboard (incidentally, it's 12% for clothing and 15% for boots) PLUS the cost of shipping. Once you've paid the duty, then you have to pay VAT at 15% on that total!
So, the original cost of £415 for the snowboard and shipping becomes £427.45 with import duty and then jumps to £491.56 once the VAT is added on top – so our 'bargain' snowboard would end up costing more than it would have in our local snowboard shop, and that's before we've even added the Custom Handling Charge of at least £10!
Of course, there's a chance that you may get lucky and not have to pay the import and VAT. In the old days, you had about a 50/50 chance of getting away with it, odds which were possibly worth the risk, but nowadays HM Customs and Revenue take an active interest in anything that reduces the treasury's income and a one and a half metre long cardboard box with 'gift' written on it isn't going to fool anybody… Almost all packages that go through courier services attract the import duties and VAT now, for no other reason that the courier stands to make extra profit from the Customs Handling Charge. You could ask the shipper to mark you package as being worth less than it really is to reduce the charges you pay, but the problem with that is – quite apart from being fraudulent – that if the parcel goes missing or is damaged in transit, then your insurance claim will only settle what the package was marked as being worth, not what you really paid.
That brings us back to where we started – UK snowboard shops. Snowboarding is a community and every community needs it's focal point – a position neatly filled by your local snowboard shop, where you can go for advice, or to pick up a few spare bolts, to get your board serviced and so on. Buying your kit from the UK doesn't just make financial sense – it also helps support the UK scene which has become as strong as it is thanks in part to the role played by your snowboard shop.
This guide is brought to you in association with SS20 and Whitelines.
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