Christmas shopping online: How to get it all wrapped up

Online shopping is a huge boon for the time-poor, but beware the many pitfalls

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock

 

Christmas is coming, and the fear is starting to set in: presents, turkey, decorations, more presents.

Clicking on a website from the comfort of your own home or office can be a far more civilised affair then braving the madding crowds at your local shopping centre. But it’s not always so.

When things go wrong and you’re stuck in the queue that doesn’t move at your local post office, then to be told it will cost you €25 to send back the Lego that’s much smaller than you had thought, or the jeans that came in an American size, the thoughts of a simple purchase or exchange in a shop most definitely has its appeal.

And if you’re not often at home, and work has banned Amazon deliveries, you can find the stress of collecting your deliveries within post office opening hours almost not worth the hassle.

There’s really only one way of finding the cheapest supplier of whatever you’re after – trolling through the websites yourself

So, while online shopping is a huge boon for the cash-strapped/time-poor Christmas shopper, it also has its downsides. Here are some pointers to help you navigate your way this festive season.

Who’s cheapest?

Unfortunately, there’s really only one way of finding the cheapest supplier of whatever you’re after – trolling through the websites yourself. Yes, you’ll find websites like pricespy.ie a big help, especially when it comes to purchasing electronics, but the downside is that they are not always clear on delivery costs. And these can add up.

What you can consider, however, is how retailers – particularly the UK ones – mark up the sterling/euro exchange rate. While sterling has shifted off its lows, there is still great value for euro shoppers out there – provided of course that the retailers pass it on.

As you can see from our table, some retailers – stand up Amazon, Book Depository, Littlewoods and HMV – have little to no mark-up on exchange rates. Others, however, fare worse. It’s to the back of the class for Debenhams, Asos and Marks & Spencer.

While it should be noted that these figures were drawn from one product only, in our experience exchange-rate differentials tend to be consistent across a retailer’s product line.

Sometimes you can get around this by trying to shop in sterling, but many retailers will shove you back to the euro site if you try to do so.

A virtual UK/US address

One of the great innovations in recent years has been the creation of a “virtual address” that allows you to shop in stores that deliver only to the UK or US – or that offer free delivery only to the UK, for example.

While UK retailers have definitely upped their game in recent years in terms of delivery options, you can still find these a useful way to cut down on delivery costs, or to access stores you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. As broad as the product range is on amazon.co.uk for example, its Echo product ships only to the UK.

But with your “virtual address” you can shop pretty much as if you’re a UK-based customer.

There are now a number of operators offering this service, including Parcel Motel, AddressPal, Parcel Connect, and DPD Parcel Wizard. Remember, though, if it’s a large parcel, you could end up paying up more than you expected. DPD Parcel Wizard for example, charges €3.85 for first 20kg (plus any related delivery charges from the retailer) plus a surcharge of €10 per consignment plus 70 cent per additional kilogram over 20kg. AddressPal charges €25 for oversized items.

If you’re looking to indulge in some US-only shopping, An Post’s virtual address offering, AddressPal, may be an option. As well as a UK address, it also allows you to shop on US websites by giving you a US address, and you can choose to have your parcel delivered to your home, or collected from your local post office. However, it is expensive at €15.99.

Another option is global ecommerce offering Borderfree. It has linked up with websites such as Old Navy and Nordstrom to allow international shoppers to shop in the US, and it also works out how much in duties you will be liable to pay on the product – an important consideration when buying from the US.

Remember, you’ll pay VAT at a rate of 23 per cent on goods valued at more than €22, and duties on goods worth more than €150. Gadgets have a zero rate of duty, but clothes attracts a charge of 12 per cent.

We’ve all heard of someone wearing a dress, packaging it up and sending it back for a refund the next day

If you’re buying from a site such as China-based Ali Express, your purchase may also be subject to VAT and duties – and remember that it can also take some time to arrive here.

Returns

This is an area where online shopping can let you down, but again, retailers have made great strides in trying to make this easier.

Zara, for example, allows you to make a free return in store, but will also send a courier free of charge to collect an item for return, while JD Sports and Littlewoods offer free returns via parcel operators.

Unfortunately, however, many other retailers still don’t offer free returns to Irish customers. While there is a cost issue to this, it may also be because they don’t want to make it too easy to return items. We’ve all heard of someone wearing a dress, packaging it up and sending it back for a refund the next day.

Sending parcels

You might also be looking for a way to post a package to loved ones overseas. These days, An Post is not be the only option.

Parcel Motel, for example, allows you to print off a label for a package weighing less than 10kg and drop it off at one of their points across the State. With prices starting at €4.50-€6.50 for delivery to another Parcel Motel in Ireland, it says you can make “substantial savings” compared with other forms of postage.

If you want the parcel to go to an address in Ireland/Northern Ireland, the cost is from €6.50-€8.50, while delivery to Britain costs €14.50-€16.50.

Parcel2Go is another operator. It has quotes ranging from €13.50 to €36.99 to send a 5kg package to the UK – and the courier will collect it from you.

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