Don’t let your address stop you netting a bargain

An Post’s AddressPal offers a new way to try to minimise the shipping costs when shopping online, but are you still better off in a bricks and mortar store? Carolyn Moore reports.

Anyone who’s shopped online knows the feeling. The euphoria of finding that special something, dashed by three little words: domestic shipping only. Like tripping up at the finishing line, realising an online store doesn’t ship to Ireland can be deflating.

I’m familiar with the feeling, though I’m by no means a regular online shopper. I prefer the experience of a bricks and mortar store, and where clothes or cosmetics are concerned, I like to touch, feel and try things.

I’ve had occasional successes shopping online, but I’ve also had my fingers burned: a designer dress that was counterfeit, a coat that cost me €20 to return, and skincare that shipped for free (yay!), but came with a customs bill that almost gave me heart failure (boo!).

Our shopping habits are clearly changing in Ireland, but not as rapidly as elsewhere it seems. New research by An Post suggests delivery restrictions and high shipping charges are frustrating Irish customers in their attempts to shop the globe — which could explain why a 2015 Eurostat survey found Ireland was well below the European average when it came to shopping online.

It’s certainly not that we’re immune to the alluring combination of exotic foreign goods and favourable exchange rates! Even anecdotally, we know that friends or family headed stateside will likely be smuggling several Kylie Lip Kits home with them; and An Post’s research confirms one in three of us will ask someone visiting the US to bring something home for us.

Along with Apple technology and Sephora makeup, topping our wish list, apparently, is Levi’s, so it seems one in three of us thinks they’re living in communist Russia. But here I’ll throw my hands up.

My mum and my aunts do an annual US shopping trip, and I’ll trash my strict ‘touch it, feel it, try it’ policy faster than an empty jar of face cream if there’s a sniff of a good dollar rate in the air.

A few years ago, my mum found a Marc Jacobs bag I’d had my eye on in the outlets, texting to ask, “It’s $99, will I get it?” I nearly gave myself friction burns so swift was my response! With one fortuitous find she’d saved me €200, and therein lies the appeal of overseas shopping.

When we can’t enlist our loved ones as fashion mules, An Post’s research suggests we’re turning to the internet instead — 48% of Irish adults shop online at least monthly; one in three shoppers buys beauty products from America; one in five gets electronics from Japan; and the UK is our top choice for fashion.

But half of the respondents have had potential online purchases thwarted by shipping restrictions, while a quarter say high shipping costs have acted as a deterrent. The will to shop up a storm is there; now An Post are providing the way.

“In the past, online options have been limited by expensive shipping costs and the failure of international e-retailers to ship to Ireland,” says Garrett Bridgeman, general manager of parcels at An Post. “This research clearly shows the frustration of customers.”

With their new service, AddressPal, An Post is resolving these issues by offering Irish shoppers proxy US and UK delivery addresses, from which they’ll forward orders, fully tracked, direct to our doors.

UK parcels up to 2kg will cost €5.99 for home delivery, or parcels up to 20kg can be collected from your nearest post office for just €3.75. A base charge of €15.99 for US parcels up to 2kg might seem high, but regular online shoppers will know shipping charges can be exorbitant, seemingly arbitrary, and sometimes downright prohibitive.

This is particularly true for the likes of Amazon and eBay, where independent traders set their own shipping policies. My husband signed up for AddressPal weeks ago; as a frequent shopper on these sites, he knows the frustration of having to abandoning a purchase, which is fine if it’s something you can pop into town and pick up, but not so great for the vintage vinyl and specialist electronics he shops for.

When I signed up, the first thing I did was compare prices on a US skincare site I almost ordered from last month, before the item I wanted practically doubled in price when shipping was added. However, in this case sending it via AddressPal would have cost an additional €6.

Next I tried Marks & Spencer, who go to great lengths to prevent Irish customers shopping at sterling prices. One fake UK mobile number later, I was in, and ready to see those savings pile up! On a pair of shoes, their delivery charge of £3.50, plus €3.75 for AddressPal, meant a negligible saving of €2.25, but a larger order might have yielded considerably more.

A further consideration is the possible imposition of customs charges on UK purchases, post-Brexit. “An Post is monitoring the situation on Brexit,” says Mr Bridgeman, confirming AddressPal parcels will continue to be subject to customs checks, “as with all international inbound parcels to Ireland.”

So the path to online savings has been paved, but the level of savings depends on a number of factors: does the site charge to ship to the AddressPal depot; does the purchase justify the cost, and will customs charges be an unwelcome surprise at the end of it all? I’m looking forward to finding out when the right purchase presents itself, and I promise to swing by Neiman Marcus for their Black Friday sale — purely in the name of research, of course!


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