I get odd looks from people when I tell them I make it a general policy not to order goods online. Sure, I pay for services and registration fees and the sort, but actual physical tangible goods? No way. And I realize that’s ironic for somebody who works on the web, but there’s a reason for it.
When I’m ordering from Canadian retailers, given shipping costs and waiting periods, it usually just makes more sense to walk into a local outlet of the store and buy whatever it is I need. Instant gratification being what it is, I’ve never adapted to the time offset between paying and receiving a book or a CD. Plus, it’s slightly cheaper.
But the reason I bring this up is because my experience ordering from out-of-country retailers has been just plain awful thus far. If things go right, I place an order, pay for the item and shipping, wait, and then pay again when the item shows up. When something crosses a border, customs duties are involved. In the end I probably spend 25% more than I would have if I’d just bought a local equivalent of the item. (And that 25% is only because the Canadian dollar is relatively strong right now; 5 years ago I spent $50 CDN at Amazon on a book listed at $20 USD).
That’s if things go right. So you can imagine that it takes special cases to entice me into ordering something from another country. This happens from time to time; and when it does, it’s only ever gone wrong. How wrong? Here are two examples:
Everyone seems to swear by crucial.com. Even with exchange rates and shipping and cross-border taxes, it seemed to me that upgrading my Mac’s RAM a year or so ago would best be done by ordering from Crucial. So I decided to give them a try.
After two weeks my RAM showed up and I paid my customs fee of about $70. Once I popped it in the computer, it appeared I had only received 768MB, not the 1GB I ordered. After swapping the sticks and trying again, it was obvious that one of the sticks was labeled as 512MB, when it was in fact 256MB.
After a phone call I was sent a special envelope, in went the RAM, and then I waited. And waited. Long story short, it took me a month and multiple hours on the phone to actually get the replacement, and the kicker is that as it crossed the border, I got hit with a second customs fee of $35.
Naturally, Crucial’s policy is not to cover that fee. Naturally, I do not shop at Crucial anymore.
Order placed, cards selected, excitement building. Two weeks later, I received a delivery notice and went to pick them up. Customs officials were apparently as excited as I was that I was getting them, evidenced by the special envelopes in which they seal things they’ve opened up and rifled through.
When I went to pay my customs fee, I noticed two things wrong. First, there were two shipments, 100 cards each, separate envelopes. Each was declared with the total value of the order. So I paid duty on $80, instead of $40. This was Moo’s fault. Second, one of them was calculated in pounds instead of US dollars (Moo is a British company but their transactions are done in US currency), so I was charged $7 more on that one. This was the fault of customs. A total of $28 extra to claim my order, almost as much as they’re worth, and most of that charged in error.
So when I got home and found that 8 cards had been misprinted from each set, I was quite a bit less happy. To be fair, Moo offered to make it right by sending me two more free sets, but given that I’d already paid $70 or so, and would have to pay again for those sets, I decided not to take them up on it.
See the trend? If I order from out-of-country, and the shipper screws up, I’m the one left holding the bill for fixing that mistake. This is why I don’t order tangible goods online.
I’m not sure there’s anything for retailers to do about this; it’s a government problem, and somehow I don’t see it going away any time soon. But it affects retailers anyway, since I simply won’t order if I know the potential exists for this to happen again.
I doubt it’s unique to my country, I’m sure taxes on items crossing borders is a fairly universal thing. Be thankful if you live in a region where items ordered online aren’t taxed; for those of us on the other side of the fence, your grass is certainly greener.
(And since we’re on the subject, don’t even get me started on PayPal…)