Last Updated on April 14, 2016
“Bring back something from the duty free shop!” Many are familiar with this request from friends and family, issued anytime they find themselves at an airport. For years now duty free shops at airports have enjoyed the reputation of being every bargain hunter’s heaven, luring in shoppers with the promise of tax-free purchases. Who doesn’t want to save money, especially while traveling and from alcohol to perfume, everything is cheaper in the duty free shop, right?Well, not always. As it turns out, more often than not the supposed savings to be made by shopping duty free may be an illusion. Once upon a time, when flying was still a novelty and the internet didn’t exist, duty free shoppers could be secure in the knowledge that their airport finds had saved them a penny or two. Nowadays, internet shopping is taking over and online market places like this one, specializing in another duty free staple – watches, provides shoppers with the opportunity to snap up a bargain at any given time. Times are certainly changing for the airport retailers.
To understand why duty free is not as straightforward as it seems, you first need to understand the concept behind it. Duty is a customs fee or sales tax, which can be waived if retailers are selling to international travelers leaving the country. As the retailer does not have to pay the tax themselves, they can afford not to charge the customer. This explains the assumption that duty free is cheaper – it makes sense that if an item is cheaper for the retailer, it should be cheaper for the customer!
However, recently reports have surfaced of many duty free shops not taking into account the savings they make when setting the retail price, instead making an even higher profit for themselves. This in combination with the fact that airport retail space is some of the most expensive means that in reality, prices charged in duty free shops can sometimes be higher than on the local high-street. Particularly items like perfume and makeup often turn out to be more expensive in the duty free shop when compared side by side.Even alcohol and cigarettes, two items that are often viewed as having the highest savings potential when bought duty free due to the high tax imposed on them, often only displayed a difference in actual size but with no actual savings. So, a bottle of liquor which might seem proportionately cheaper because it is four times the size of a normal bottle actually can also cost four times as much. Whether or not it is worth carrying a three-liter bottle of gin around with simply for the novelty of the bigger bottle, well, that is up to you to decide. Clearly though, it pays to do some research ahead of traveling.
With many online market places and even high-street shops offering the same product at cheaper prices, it is clear that the airport duty free shop has become nothing more than a well-marketed ploy to get travelers to buy things they don’t need under the assumption that they are making a saving. Added to that is the time pressure of having to make quick purchasing decisions or risk missing your flight, and duty free is a retail heaven. So the next time you are umming and ahhing over a flask of “Poison” by Dior or Ray Ban aviators, perhaps pull out your phone and make sure you are not paying more than you would online.