Sunday, August 26, 2012

Buying it on Amazon (or how I avoid paying high Norwegian prices)

I thought I’d put in my two cents concerning the discussion about how expensive it is to be a tourist in Norway. There have been a number of recent articles about exactly this topic—how expensive it is to travel in Scandinavia, and especially in Norway—and some of them are pretty funny, at least to me, since I recognize my own reactions (and a bit of shock) to much of what is written in them. Try this recent article, for example http://frugaltraveler.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/24/scandinavia-on-125-a-day/?hpw). Tourists are not the only ones who are shocked at the high cost of living here; I’ve lived here for twenty-two years and I’m still often taken aback at how much things cost. It’s not so much housing prices (which are comparable to Manhattan and other large cities around the world), but it’s other things, like cars, eating out, gasoline, groceries and other necessities. However, a number of low-price supermarkets have sprung up in Oslo in recent years; here you can find some bargains and that’s always a good thing. Prices in Norway for different items can be shocking; you need to take a deep breath at times and stop converting the prices to American dollars if you’re an American expat. Because if you continue to convert, you will realize how much money you are really paying just to live, and it’s not to live extravagantly. For example, if you convert, you will find that you are paying twenty dollars for one, I repeat, one dental floss dispenser at local pharmacies. It doesn’t matter where you are—in the rich or less rich city areas—prices are the same. And the dental floss is not manufactured in Norway, it is imported. It is good old Johnson & Johnson dental floss that you can find on Amazon for a fraction of the Norwegian price. In fact, a package of six dental floss dispensers (100 yards each, more or less the same size as what is available for sale here), costs 17.82 dollars on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Reach-Dentotape-Designed-spaced-Unflavored/dp/B003XDVERE/ref=pd_sim_hpc_1). In other words, you’re being suckered if you pay that price for one floss dispenser in this country. So guess who recently ordered dental floss from Amazon. Even if I pay international shipping costs, which are not much, the total price for six dispensers is still much cheaper than what I would pay for one here in Oslo. And so it goes. Take aspirin. Genuine Bayer aspirin (325mg 200 coated tablets) on Amazon costs 9.47 dollars (http://www.amazon.com/Genuine-Bayer-Aspirin-Tablets-Coated/dp/B001LFG0OI/ref=pd_sim_hpc_1); at an online Norwegian pharmacy, I can get a package of 20 aspirin tablets (440 mg) for 7 dollars. It borders on the ridiculous. Of course, healthcare costs are ‘lower’ in this country than in the USA; but wage earners in Norway pay for universal healthcare through their taxes (at present, the sales tax is 25%), as well as taxes on gasoline, liquor, and cigarettes. I don’t have a problem with paying taxes to fund universal healthcare (something Americans should think more about so that healthcare became more accessible to all), but just so the point is made—healthcare is not free in this country by any stretch of the imagination. Nothing in this world comes for free. But it would be nice not to have to pay through the nose for some basic items like dental floss and aspirin. So whenever I am in the USA, I stock up on such things; it’s worth it. Norwegians pay their taxes willingly, but never believe for one second that they don’t want a bargain if they can get one. Those Norwegians who live on the east side of the country save money by shopping for groceries and liquor in Sweden, where prices are much cheaper. And when they travel, they stock up on duty-free items (e.g. liquor and tobacco products) on their return. And duty-free prices are still expensive, just considerably less expensive than the usual prices. 

Why are prices so high? Someone is getting rich, and it’s not the average consumer. But if you take a look at the incomes of the owners of the major supermarket chains in this country, that will shed some light on the matter. They are quite wealthy; in fact, they are some of the wealthiest people in this country. They control the food prices; the farmers who are always being blamed for the high price of food do not. Farmers are subsidized in many countries; it’s a tricky and difficult profession and I don’t begrudge them the subsidies if this is what helps them to live and as long as the subsidies are reasonable. I have a problem with the middlemen—that group of people who bring the consumer goods to us. Again, I don’t mind paying a 15% or 20% markup so that they can make some profit from importing goods for us to buy. I mind when the markup is 300% or 600%. There is no reason other than pure profit that dental floss and aspirin cost the exorbitant prices they do at present. It reminds me of how middlemen have milked my own profession for years and made huge profits. The suppliers of medical research items like antibodies, buffers and other reagents have charged sales tax on items that should have been tax-free because they were being used for research. They also marked up prices for many of these items by 100% or more. So you had an insane markup plus 25% sales tax. Fair? No. They were finally forced to implement the tax-free policy and made it as difficult as possible to implement. It always surprised me that hospitals and research institutions were not more aggressive and adamant about having this tax-free policy enforced many years ago already, considering the financial difficulties many find themselves in at present. 

10 comments:

  1. I agree with your conclusion (as a foreigner living in Oslo). Recently I went to Berlin and Stockholm and found the food prices there are much more affordable. And in Oslo if you go to those supermarkets opened by Islamic people (the famous vegetable and fruit market in Grønland for example), the food price is generally much more affordable as well. But for most of the time people don't bother and just shop in the nearest supermarkets.

    For electronic devices, which you couldn't buy from Amazon (they won't ship those to Norway), I found prisjakt.no quite handy. Sometimes you can even find stuff cheaper than the one in US or Germany! I bought most of my "hvitevarer" from Internet stores and I'm pretty happy with their services (Bring messed up things a few times though).

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  2. Glad you commented! Not all food items are expensive; vegetables and fruit can be bought at reasonable prices in supermarkets, but you get better prices and choices at the vegetable and fruit markets as you say. The supermarkets are more convenient though because there are so many of them! Amazon won't ship electronic items to Norway most likely due to the EU regulations. I have bought some electronic items online at Pixmania for decent prices. I'll have to check out prisjakt.no. It's strange that there is no consistency in terms of what is expensive and what is not. For example, you can get digital cameras for good prices in stores that sell electronic equipment, but camera accessories cost a fortune. Movies and music are not expensive, but books are. Cell phones and computers are not too pricey. I don't understand why some items are so ridiculously overpriced, like the ones I talk about--dental floss and aspirin. Cosmetics also cost a lot of money here. You find your way around eventually, and after so many years here, I know where to go to save money. I just think that it's time there was more consistent pricing across the board.

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  3. For books luckily we can still buy from Amazon (some old books I wanted can only be purchased through Amazon anyway) without paying much tax. Since we have migrated to Kindle mostly, we only keep minimum printed books at home so shipping cost is not a big issue. For me the markets in Oslo just have too limited choices when I want to buy clothes or shoes. Kitchen stuff is OK but not as many as the ones in Germany. Oh of course the cost usually comes from the labor: hiring a plumber/electrician definitely costs a lot; even simple delivery in the city costs much more than other countries.

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  4. Germany has reasonable prices; I saw that this summer when we spent some time in Berlin. So we stocked up on some food items and bought some wine, etc. I have been ordering books via Amazon for many years, and that has worked very well. Amazon is an amazing company in so many ways--reliable in terms of shipping and reasonably-priced items. I agree, the labor costs drive the prices up. I'm willing to accept somewhat higher prices if it means that all people can make a decent living, but I think that here, just like anywhere else where prices are exorbitantly high, that the profit motive is the major reason behind the high prices. I may be slightly cynical, but that's how I see it these days.

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  5. I order books, which are duty free, all the time from Amazon, but have avoided other things because of the import duties/VAT and the cost that some shippers charge for clearing customs. My understanding is that up to 200 NOK of taxable goods can be sent by a company (NOK 1000 by a private person) before you have to deal with customs.

    So, I'm curious if you've gone over 200 NOK on taxable goods ordered from amazon, and if so, did you have any problems with customs?

    BTW, I grew up in NY.

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  6. Nice to meet a fellow New Yorker and expat! Yes, I have gone over the 200 kr limit, as recently as this summer when I ordered a TV series DVD collection that I really wanted from Amazon. I was prepared for the customs charges that accompanied its arrival. Otherwise I am careful to keep all orders under that limit. It has worked so far, even with items like dental floss, aspirin and a few cosmetics. As far as receiving overseas packages from private persons, it mostly works, except for one major fiasco at Christmastime about eight years ago when the post office outsourced some of its package scanning work to NSB of all organizations, where I ended up paying import duties on Christmas gifts from friends. I was not very happy, to put it mildly. We no longer do things that way, suffice it to say, and have settled on, again, Amazon as the solution--gift cards and the like. And of course if I really want or need something from CVS or Kmart, my friends buy it for me and ship it as a gift. That works well too.

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  7. I also had a recent purchase that was 500 NOK and no ramifications

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    1. Good to hear! Things change at Amazon too. I just recently ordered more dental floss, and the seller they use won't ship outside of the USA. Could be due to EU regulations, or not, I don't know. Electronic items from the USA cannot ship into EU territory, so perhaps that will be the rule rather than the exception for other items as well in years to come. We'll see.

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  8. OK, you said you've figured out other money-saving tips. Please share! I just moved here from California in July and am really anxious to hear ideas. I don't buy alcohol or tobacco so Sweden may not be much of a help.... but yes, things as simple as medical gauze, ear wax drops, toiletries and household supplies are just shocking... I live 45 mins outside of Oslo and our international market provides things I would otherwise really miss (dried beans, tofu, etc) but NOT at good prices and their veggies/fruits are often more expensive than the Norsk grocery stores.
    Are you saying that I can order from amazon as much as I want as long as I keep the order under 200 kr? Also, do you order from amazon uk or us? It looks like Norway doesn't qualify for prime of any kind? Any other tips on money saving in Norway? Thanks so much!

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    1. Nice to meet another American, Mary Jo! I found this info recently concerning the 200 kr rule: http://www.posten.no/en/products-and-services/customs/customs#q-a

      I have ordered DVDs and books from Amazon.UK. Prices for dental floss on Amazon UK are cheaper than in Norway but still more expensive than in the USA. The last few years, I have loaded up on healthcare items when I travel back to NY. Since I stock up, rather than risk getting stopped in customs with packaged items that I've carried on board, I remove all items like floss and aspirin from their packaging and tuck them into my regular luggage.Same with clothing. I've also had friends ship items to me as gifts. If friends or colleagues travel to the USA, they can take back things you need. I do that for others as well. You can make several separate orders on Amazon for what you need and separate the shipments so that each one comes in at or under 200 kr. I've done that as well. I also have a USAMail1 address, so that I buy and save on shipping in the USA--they ship to the my address at USAMail1 who then ship items on to me. The smartest is to have them ship several items at the same time so that shipping isn't exorbitant. They're not cheap and I don't use them often, but it helps sometimes if I want an item that a US company won't ship overseas (like Williams Sonoma some years ago).

      Some of the others who have commented above mentioned Germany as being pretty cheap, so that might be another option. I know beer is quite cheap there, as are other types of alcohol.

      Our monthly food budget for two people is about 700 dollars, plus/minus 50 dollars. I think that's a lot considering I stick to the basics--ground beef, chicken, fish, veggies, fruit, milk, juice, etc. Few to no desserts, no candy, no soda, etc. We don't eat out all that much. So once or twice a year we end up in Sweden and buy meat in bulk. We have two freezers so that helps. Also, I don't overdo it on household cleaning products--buy just what I need and use them sparingly. The international markets as you say have some good stuff, but in Oslo at least they have gotten more expensive because they know people come to them to save money. So they have raised their prices a bit, at the same time as the supermarkets have come down a bit, at least for veggies and fruit. It's an art to balance it all. Good luck to you.

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