Weak sterling a savings opportunity for online shoppers

Carolyn Moore says online shoppers save even more by changing currency, and tries it out on a must-have bomber jacket

June 24, 2016 — a day that will live in infamy. Not only did the world wake up to the sobering news that the UK had voted to leave the EU, but online fashion mecca ASOS.com went down, ostensibly due to “technical difficulties”, but more likely in a bid to adjust its pricing in the wake of a disastrous result for British retail and a plummeting pound.

As angst-ridden shoppers turned to social media to convey their dismay — “Will you please get your shop working again, I’ve got to buy heels for funeral!”, pleaded one distraught customer — others expressed relief that ASOS going down on pay day was a blessing in disguise, while cynical types speculated that those outside the UK would be in for a spot of price gouging once the site came back online.

Whatever the attitude of individual customers, one thing was clear: the volume of responses showed that our addiction to online shopping has never been more pronounced, and in fact, post-Brexit, ASOS have enjoyed a boom in sales, as European and US customers cash in on a weak pound.

When ASOS did come back online, prices favoured customers shopping in euro, with a Chi Chi prom dress that cost €91.75 in May now priced €86.66.

“Around 55% of our customers are non-UK, so in the short term the exchange rate weakness is good news for them,” ASOS chief executive Nick Beighton told reporters last month.

“Our prices, which are denominated off sterling, now look cheaper to US and European customers.”

What he failed to mention, however, is that there’s a way for Irish customers to save even more. Irish ASOS customers shop the UK version of the site, which gives us the option to pay in sterling, so that same Chi Chi dress, purchased at the sterling price of £65, converts to roughly €76 — a further €10 saving.

And this is not just the case with ASOS. While customers logging on from Ireland will find ASOS — and most UK retailers, from Topshop to Monsoon — automatically detects their location and displays prices in euros, savvy shoppers are learning that, post-Brexit, there are potentially huge savings to be made by simply changing that pre-selected currency to sterling.

Retailers are not exactly singing this from the rooftops, but why would they when there’s a tidy extra profit to be made on each euro sale if they keep it under wraps?

With the pound currently languishing at £1 to €1.16, and uncertainty around the roll-out of Brexit sure to cause fluctuations in coming months, some stores have factored this weakness into their new season euro pricing.

Considering the VAT difference between the UK’s 20% and Ireland’s 23%, New Look — along with ASOS — applies a reasonable conversion rate of €1.30 to the pound, so while they do allow Irish customers to shop online in sterling, the savings on New Look’s already low price points are negligible.

Compare this to Marks & Spencer, who make it impossible for Irish customers to shop on their UK website, yet apply a shockingly high conversion rate of 1.45, barely reflecting a dip in the value of the pound, let alone a nose dive.

To buy one of Autumn Winter’s must-haves — an embroidered bomber jacket — in Marks & Spencer will set Irish customers back €82, while the same jacket, at the sterling price of £55, converts to an infinitely more affordable €64.

Fast becoming a versatile wardrobe staple, the high street will be awash with darker, more opulent variations on the bomber jacket come September, so where are the biggest savings to be made?

Well, there are other stores who have been shrewd enough to block access to their sterling prices — Warehouse among them — but the majority of retailers do give the option to pay in sterling.

While Needle & Thread’s luxuriously embellished bomber (1) retails at £230 on needleandthread.com, net-a-porter.com, and ASOS.com, Net-a-porter charge Irish customers a whopping €350. Paying in sterling on Needle & Thread’s own site, or on ASOS, you’ll pay around €266, and with the latter offering free shipping, that’s a saving of €84 on this stunning high-end piece.

With more muted embroidery, Monsoon’s bomber (2) has everyday appeal. Priced €108 with free shipping, it’s a good investment for the season ahead, but buy at the sterling rate of £69 and pay £3.95 shipping, and it converts to roughly €84, a saving of €24.

Hitting on the folkloric trend, this bomber from Topshop (3) is €98, but select UK as your country and you’ll pay £69.

With free delivery, that’s about €79, a sweet saving of €19.

This affordable streetwear-inspired jacket from New Look (4) will cost €59.99, or £44.99 in sterling. Add £5 for shipping and your total is about €50, saving you a tenner.

For maximum savings when you are shopping in sterling, you can sign up for a Revolut virtual debit card (revolut.com), which offers much more competitive interbank conversion rates.

And for sites that don’t allow delivery to Ireland, consider the advantages of a virtual address, with Parcel Motel (www.parcelmotel.com).

Whatever you’re shopping for, there are numerous ways to take advantage of the weak pound without a trek across the border, so shop smart and shop around; find that sterling conversion option, and watch those savings pile up.


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