Tuesday Tips: Buying International
You've searched long and hard for that perfect rug for your dining room only to find that it's on a Web site based in Sweden. The shipping charges are bound to be more than your mortgage, and how would you return the thing if that shade of green just doesn't work? So you bag the whole idea, putting your search back at square one.
Hillary Mendelsohn, author of "The Purple Book: The Definitive Guide to Exceptional Online Shopping," says buying from non-U.S. Web sites doesn't have to be so traumatic. Here are her tips for making it work:
Tip #1: Look for clues that the vendor regularly takes international orders. It's a good sign if their shipping and return policies are clearly stated in English.
Tip #2: After finding the item you want, take a good, hard look at the vendor's shipping rates. Expect to pay 10-15 percent more in shipping fees than you normally would with a U.S.-based vendor, for normal-sized items. Vendors tend to charge whatever they want to ship larger items like furniture, says Mendelsohn. You'll also likely pay a duty for bigger pieces. Don't be surprised if you find sites that don't charge for shipping. Those vendors are trying to build up their international business. You will, however, pay an international surcharge known as value added tax or VAT. This is a fee paid to take goods out of Europe and is usually automatically added to your bill by the vendor, says Mendelsohn.
Tip #3: Look for alternative contact information such as a phone number, especially if you're buying a large item or an expensive one. Mendelsohn says she always calls the vendor when she's ordered big-ticket items, even though it goes against the convenience of online shopping. But she says it's a good way to find out how and when they're shipping your purchase. And don't worry, you won't have to learn French before picking up the phone. Most sites that regularly ship overseas will have an English speaker at the customer service desk.
Tip #4: Mendelsohn says think long and hard before making an international purchase because making a return could set you back. International shipping is expensive and if you return something you'll have to suck up that shipping fee.
Tip #5: Many sites will automatically tell you your total bill in U.S. dollars but if not, check out the conversion calculator at XE.com. And figure out the shipping fees and any other charges while you're there.
Tip #6: Always use a credit card to pay for items anywhere on the Internet, whether it be from a U.S.-based company or one based overseas. Credit cards, rather than debit cards or checks, offer fraud protection in case there's an issue. "International sites that are good at taking international orders all take American credit cards," says Mendelsohn. "If they don't, then you shouldn't buy from them."
Tip #7: If you're buying art or antiques, make sure they have a way to prove the authenticity of the item. "If they're good, they'll stand behind their authenticity," Mendelsohn adds.
Mendelsohn's international favorites:
Adin: Based in Belgium, the site sells antique jewelry.
Canfora: Based on Italy's Isle of Capri, the site sells beaded sandals.
MyCatwalk: This Australian site sells high-end designer clothes. Mendelsohn says there's nothing else like it online.
Net-a-Porter: This U.K.-based site also sells high-end fashion.
Ancient Art: Another U.K.-based site, Ancient Art sells ancient artifacts like handwritten pages from a medieval Bible.
Comtesse du Barry: This French site sells gourmet food, like Russian caviar.
BuyLebanese.com: This site sells Lebanese food and products from its store in Beirut.
Do you buy from international Web sites? If so, what do you buy? If not, what has held you back from buying from international sites? Post a comment below.
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