If you live in Europe and were one of the few people lucky enough to have ordered an Analogue Nt Mini Noir a while back, in the past day or two you may have realised that you’re now also unlucky enough to have been hit with an enormous customs charge.
FedEx, who are handling Analogue’s shipments, are currently in the process of contacting those who bought the company’s premium souped-up NES (including this writer) and informing them that before they get their $500 console they’re going to have to fork out another £201.60 / €235 on top of that.
Now, when confronted with a shock like this the natural response is to say: “This has to be a big mistake, and I won’t rest until my hands are absolutely soaked in blood… or at the very least I get some of that money back. Actually, probably just the money back would be easier. Who should I be complaining to in order to make this happen?” Unfortunately, in this case, nobody’s at fault – other than angry governments, that is. Bear with us here, because there’s a lot of numbers in this article and if you haven’t been practising your Brain Training, you might have to take your time.
You see, the EU and the USA have been having a bit of a fight recently. We could be here all day explaining the details, but the gist is that America was angry at Europe for giving subsidies to European plane-maker Airbus, and threatened to add extra taxes on $7.5 billion worth of goods coming into the States from European countries. The tables were then turned when the U.S. started giving similar subsidies to Boeing, causing the EU to say: “well, we’re going to add extra taxes too, on $4 billion of American goods coming into Europe.”
The EU put together a huge list of categories of items that these new tariffs would cover. It’s a pretty random bunch of things, from cheddar cheese and ketchup to tractors and potatoes. The one that’s sadly relevant to our interests, though, is the catchily-named Commodity Code 9504500000, which covers “video game consoles and machines”. As such, anyone importing video game consoles from the US is going to have to pay an extra fee on top of the usual customs charges they should already expect.
How much extra? Well, let’s take the UK for example, because that’s where we’re mainly based and people in the comments keep telling us we’re all biased, so let’s roll with it. Usually, if we import something from outside of the EU and its value is more than £15 (or £39 if it’s a gift), we’re expected to pay 20% of that total value including shipping (to cover tax costs, specifically VAT). That means if you buy something and the total cost including shipping is, say, $200, you can probably expect a bill of $40 (converted to pounds).
This new EU-imposed tax adds another 25% on top of that for video game consoles, which means that $200 item will now come with a $90 bill: your usual $40 VAT plus $50 for this new charge. That’s why people who spent $550 to get the Analogue Nt Mini Noir (plus shipping costs) would have expected to get charged around $110 in fees but are now being stung with a bill for $247.50. With FedEx’s own processing fee added to this, Brits are looking at a total of £201.60 (around $270).
So, pitchforks and flaming torches at the ready, and off to Analogue’s headquarters, yes? Well, not quite, even though we looked it up and “spades, shovels, mattocks, picks, hoes, forks and rakes” don’t fall under the 25% charge. You see, Analogue isn’t to blame for this: it’s got a legal duty to declare exactly what it’s selling and its monetary value, and that hefty fee seems to match up with the 45% tariff currently being charged. The only way it could have gotten around this was by declaring the consoles were only worth $100, or by declaring them as gifts: problem is, that’s fraud.
Analogue confirmed the situation when we got in touch, telling us:
The charges are VAT/Taxes from the UK or EU government. The UK has recently added a new tax or increased pre-existing taxes for video game consoles and machines imposed by UK customs. Laws and regulations when importing goods from abroad are different on a country by country basis and in the responsibility of the individual importing the goods (this is listed in Analogue’s terms & conditions which are required to be agreed upon at every checkout on the Analogue store).
So no, Analogue can’t be blamed for this hefty fee. It could, however, be blamed for a lack of communication with its customers. The Nt Mini Noir was delayed numerous times and, had it been released on time, it would have been delivered before 10th November (when this extra 25% charge kicked in). Still, this can’t be helped: delays obviously happen – especially in this most tumultuous of years – and it's not like Analogue has deliberately held the machine back to make sure its customers incur extra charges.
Despite that, there’s now a growing backlash on Twitter that’s being allowed to swell and spread misinformation due to Analogue’s lack of public response (at the time of writing). For example, some FedEx customer service agents, seemingly unaware of the new charges, thought the issue may have been Analogue failing to declare the correct shipping information. As such, there are plenty of people online who feel this is Analogue’s fault for messing up.
Of course, since the new charge only kicked in a fortnight ago there’s a case to be made that Analogue has genuinely only just become aware of it (and, again, if it was to explain this in a statement we’d hope most people would understand, annoyed as they may be at the cost). There’s an even bigger potential problem on the horizon, though, and this argument won’t be valid when and if it comes around: the Analogue Pocket.
The company’s hugely-anticipated handheld device is due to ship in May 2021, and it received far more orders than the Nt Mini Noir did, many of which will have come from Europe. If this extra tariff is still in place, UK customers who ordered the handheld and a dock can expect a charge of around $150, converted to whatever that’ll be in pounds at that time. If Analogue wants to stay in its European customers’ good books we suggest it emails everyone with information on this extra charge, making it perfectly clear to them all that there could be an extra 25% on top of any usual import charges if this situation isn’t resolved by the time the Pocket is ready to ship.
By all means, it can explain that it isn’t to blame for this, because it isn’t. But it’s at least the decent thing to do to make its European customers aware of the situation, and give them the information they need to decide whether to stick with their order or cancel if it’s getting a bit expensive for them (especially during times like this, when money is tight for a lot of people). It’s not like a cancellation would mean a lost sale: there are thousands of people who missed out on the ridiculously small pre-order window.
We should also stress that this isn’t a problem limited to Analogue. Every American company that exports gaming hardware to Europe should now be made aware of this, and should be passing that information on to its customers to avoid future confusion, shock and anger. What does this news mean, for example, for the constantly delayed Polymega, which is now scheduled to ship in February? European customers were only able to order it through a single German distributor: will they now try to charge us even more than the premium already added in order to recoup these extra import fees?
And at the risk of confusing things even further, if this was a decision made by the EU, what’s going to happen in January when Brexit kicks in and the United Kingdom is no longer part of the European Union? Is the UK still going to be a part of this agreement, or will the 25% be wiped in some sort of UK-US trade agreement? Have we actually managed to find the one benefit of Brexit?
Our heads hurt. We’re off to pay this £201 fee then have a lie down while we think of the 402 cans of Irn-Bru we could have bought with that money.