The row in Jersey follows moves by Asda and Tesco to start selling their CDs and DVDs from the island, in order to exploit the UK's Revenue and Customs rules. While import duty is payable on goods imported from outside the European Union, if these goods are delivered by post – as is the case when buying online – shoppers don't have to pay duty if the value is less than £18.
As a result, items such as CDs, DVDs and computer games can often be imported free of duty. Even if you're buying several items – and thus spending more than £18 – most importers will despatch your orders separately, so that you don't have to pay any duty at all.
Local spending taxes are still payable, but in many countries these duties are much lower than the UK's 17.5 per cent VAT rate. In some areas, such as Jersey, there is no VAT at all, which is why retailers have set up there.
However, following pressure from the UK, the Jersey authorities are clamping down on online sellers. They say that where companies are simply using a small office on the island to fulfil orders from the UK, Jersey is getting no benefit from the business.
Don't despair, however. Asda and Tesco may now be forced out of the cheap imports market, but the Jersey ruling does not affect companies that are actually based in the country and have a bona fide business there. A spokesman for one cheap importer, Play.com, confirms: "We do not believe we are affected."
In any case, Jersey is not the only territory from which importers operate. "We are cheap because we shift a vast number of products, but also because of how we are set up," says Philip Robinson, co-founder of CD Wow, which is based in Hong Kong.
Last year, the company was forced to settle a dispute with the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) over non-European-issue CDs, but its prices have not markedly increased since.
CD Wow started out selling CDs , but has since expanded into DVDs, videos and computer games. Robinson believes imported DVDs are particularly good value, now that people can buy multi-region DVD players so cheaply.
Importers such as CD Jungle, 101.cd.com and cdimports.com all work to a similar business model. Who offers the best price depends on what you're buying. For chart albums, for example, UK-based companies such as Amazon can offer just as good value as the importers. For less well-known acts, importers often offer better value – for American music, for instance, US-based companies can offer a particularly good deal.
Martin Lewis, founder of the consumer website Moneysavingexpert.com, says consumers can make real savings. "CDs are a commodity," he says. "I don't care where I buy a CD from – I just want to pay the lowest possible price for it."
Lewis points out that shopping around on the internet does not have to be a chore. "For something as simple as this, your best option is to do just two searches, on the price comparison sites Pricerunner and Kelkoo," he says. "They will identify the cheapest price for whatever you're after in a matter of seconds."
Reputable importers include shipping costs in their headline price, but just double-check this is the case before you buy. In some cases, you may have to wait several days for your order to be fulfilled. The only other catch is that track listings on CDs can vary between international markets. In the US, an album often has fewer tracks, because music publishers pay copyright fees by the song.
Robinson, of CD Wow, says his site always makes it clear to buyers if there is any major variation between CDs on offer. But do compare track listings to what you would be buying in the UK.
Often, the savings you make on a particular CD will be small, but don't be put off. Save 50p on four albums a month, say, and you'll be £24 better off after a year, enough to buy at least three more CDs.Reuse content