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Buying Online: Sweet music on the cheap

You can save money buying CDs online from the US, says Davey Winder
Why buy CDs online when you can pop to the high street and get your music over the counter? The answer comes in three parts: choice, interactivity, and price.

Choice is the primary reason for taking the Internet route. Often high street retailers won't have the record you want, especially if it's not in the charts or deemed not to be "popular". Even if the shop does stock it, finding the disc is another story. The bigger the shop the harder the task.

Online record stores simplify the whole process. Enter the name of the artist into the site's search facility and within seconds the details are there on the screen. Most times you will be confronted by a discography of recordings all available through the store. Online stores aren't restricted by floor space, and in practice this can result in more than 100,000 titles in stock.

The online shop will seduce you with record reviews, audio excerpts off the Web page (thanks to the audio technology built into most browsers these days), and possibly video clips of the artist in action. All of the added extras help to produce an interactive shopping experience.

Which brings us nicely on to price - if it's bargains you want then the Internet is where to find them. UK-based stores offer low prices in order to compete with the high street, and US stores offer the chance to exploit the dollar differential.

There are additional costs to bear in mind when ordering from the US. Audio CDs attract import duty at 3 per cent and VAT at 17.5 per cent, but whether these are collected by the Post Office is hit and miss (if they do collect, they will add another pounds 1.20 as an admin fee).

Even after you've added these extra costs, and the cost of delivery from the US, the price differences are such that you can still making considerable savings. Keep the cost of your purchases below pounds 18 and there's no duty or VAT to pay.

Does it work? Well, I purchased recently three CDs from a US-based shop, the cost in the high street would have been pounds 51.97 in total. After adding my delivery charges, import duty and VAT, I paid just pounds 39. That's a saving of almost pounds 13.