International shopping tips
International online shopping is a lot of fun - when you know how how to avoid any pitfalls and stay safe. Even if you frequently shop online within your own country, there are some issues that are specific to international shopping. Here are some practical tips for getting the most for your hard-earned cash:
Look into the reputation of the shop
It’s easy; just do a search for “legit or scam” and the name of the store. From that you will be able to find reviews and ratings for that store from other customers.
Make sure you order with enough time for the item to arrive before it’s needed
This is especially important if you’re purchasing a birthday gift for someone, for example. Shipping transit times will naturally be longer than if you’re ordering within the same country. Most shops do a good job of clearly outlining the expected delivery date range on their shipping information page, this way you know what to expect before you even start putting items in your shopping bag.
Clothing, shoes and accessories: sizing systems differ between many countries
Some countries use the UK version of sizing, others the US version, the Asian version, or the European version. For example, a UK women’s size 10 is about equal to a size 4 in the US system, which is usually a Large or Extra-large in Asian sizing. Most online stores have a sizing chart available; it’s typically clickable from each product page so you don’t have to bother navigating to the customer service area. Make sure you understand how your normal sizing equates to the store’s sizing. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re purchasing anything that’s to be worn on the body, always double-check the size you selected.
Be sure you understand the return policy in case the item isn’t suited to your needs
Most shops which deliver globally will accept returns; however the customer is expected to pay return shipping. This means that for many of the cheaper items, it may cost more for you to return an unwanted item than to simply keep it and absorb the loss. For an expensive item, it’s certainly worthwhile to return the item; just be careful to ship it with the appropriate level of insurance, with tracking, and be sure to keep all receipts, especially the one from your postal agency or shipping office showing that you dispatched it. Snap a pic on your phone of the addressed package with shipping label and tracking number immediately before sending, if you can do so. Note: Most online shops require you to get authorization from them first before you return something, so always seek out this approval first. There may be a return code you are expected to include as a packing slip or in the shipping label. Never merely ship a return to a store without having communicated with them first.
For movies, be aware of region encoding
DVDs and Blu-Rays have region coding.
The Blu-Ray region coding is less complex, with just 3 regions. Region A is U.S., Japan, Latin America, East Asia (except China); region B is Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand; region C is China, Russia, India, remaining countries. Not all Blu-Ray discs are region-coded; some may be played anywhere in the world. If buying from overseas, do read the product description to make sure the lanuage you need is available on your selected Blu-Ray disc, whether as sub-titles or as voice-overs.
But if you have a DVD player but not a Blu-Ray player, we recommend not purchasing DVDs from overseas because there are more total number of regions and they’re much more strictly enforced by your player.
Pay via PayPal whenever possible instead of credit card
This keeps you safe in two ways: firstly when you use Paypal, your credit card details are never seen by the store employees, and those digits are never stored on the shop’s computer systems. Secondly, PayPal has a money-back guarantee. For example, if the store shipped you a defective product, and if the store refuses to do anything about it, then you can open a case with PayPal to get your money back. I’ve never yet had to use this feature, but it’s an awesome backup if you wind up shopping at a less-than-reputable store.
For electronic items, be careful of plug incompatiblities
The electrical system differs between UK, US, European, and other areas. If you’re purchasing anything that can be plugged into a wall socket (whether to use or to recharge), then you absolutely need to make sure that you purchase one with the appropriate type of plug. This sounds obvious, but it’s something all too few people think about when purchasing that shiny new laptop. In worst case scenario, if you’ve already purchased something that isn’t designed for use with your type of socket, you can buy an adapter online at a relatively cheap price point (e.g. UK to US socket). You needn’t avoid electronics entirely; some rechargable products are created with USB charging capability instead of wall socket charging - this is ideal for international use.
Coupons do not always apply internationally
This is sad but true. Some stores will honor all coupons regardless of shipping address, but the majority don’t. If you’re ordering internationally, be very careful about this. Typically the time when would apply your coupon code is when the item is in the cart but before you have completed your checkout process. Always look to see if it has accepted your coupon code before finalizing your order. If that is a deal-breaker for you, then you'll know before having ordered anything.
Beware of knock-offs
Never purchase something that is made to look exactly like a brand-name item and is not from that brand. On the other hand, products that are merely available in a similar overall type of style as a fancy brand (but are not pretending to actually be from that brand) are just fine to purchase. Things like logos and decals are what to look for here to distinguish between the two situations. Do not under any circumstance purchase an item that is being passed off as a genuine brand-name item and has a similar or identical logo on it. Such a purchase has serious legal ramifications. This problem is more prevalent in handbags, accessories, and clothing than in other categories. If you see a deal that sounds too good to be true for a designer label item, then it probably is!
Shopping internationally can be very rewarding
Although all of the possible pitfalls might sound daunting, these issues are easily avoided, as described above. What’s even better news is that there are a lot of advantages to international shopping. Often you can get a cheaper price when buying from China for example, than from your own country. Also, you’re able to get access to nice-looking styles that set you apart from what everyone else has near you. Another thing: if you’re in a country where brand-name clothing or items are rather expensive (e.g. for those in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), you might be pleasantly surprised to hear that purchasing the product from the overseas brand-name store directly and having it shipped to your address can actually work out cheaper than purchasing it from a brick-and-mortar shop in your own country.
Now that you know how to stay safe, enjoy your online shopping experience!