Deliveries, charges, returns and tax - avoiding the pitfalls of shopping online

While there are many benefits in doing your shopping online, there are plenty of hazards for the unwary consumer

There's nothing new about online shopping, but it seems that 2013 was the year when it really went mainstream in Ireland – with chains such as Dunnes Stores and Brown Thomas offering their wares for sale online for the first time. The public responded, with about three-quarters indicating they would do at least some of their Christmas purchases online.

But while the benefits of online shopping are many – no queues, no pushy sales assistants, no closing times – it also has its downsides. And we’re not just talking about the mountains of packaging that have not yet found their way from your house to the recycling centre.

Paying for, and receiving delivery of, goods can cause some headaches, as can returning the goods if you’re not happy with them, or if they’re faulty. So what do you need to know to make the whole process that little bit easier and avoid any pitfalls?

How can I make delivery easier

First up is understanding the delivery process. If it's convenient ordering goods online, the downside can be receiving your goods. If they come through the normal post, you may not be at home which will necessitate a trip to your local An Post depot during business hours. Or, if they have to be signed for by a courier you will have to arrange another delivery time if you miss the first, which can be cumbersome. If

you keep missing delivery times, it may lead to additional charges.

To help with this, M&S says that you don’t have to sign for packages purchased from its site. That means that you it can be put through your letter box or, if it’s too large, left with your neighbour if you’re not at home. Failing this, it will be sent to your local post office or delivery depot where you can pick it up.

Littlewoods goes one further and allows you to indicate where you would like the package delivered if you are not at home, eg the front porch, garage or greenhouse. However, it does add the following caveat: “We cannot accept delivery instructions to leave parcels over fences, over gates, on doorsteps, through open windows, in any form of bin/cupboard or wheelie bin, in gardens or exposed to the elements.”!

Are there any
other options?
If you want to collect parcels at your own convenience, you could consider using a Parcelmotel. Parcelmotels are now located all around the State, from Carton Business Park in Kildare to Topaz Ballincollig in Cork and Tesco Tullamore in Offaly, as well as a number in Dublin. They simply store your package until you are ready to collect it.

When the delivery arrives to your chosen Parcelmotel, you will get a text message notifying you of its arrival. You can collect it at any time with your phone and PIN number. The cost is €3.50. That means that if you order from Zara, for example, and pay €3.95 for delivery, the total cost to you will be €7.45. On the other hand, if you can avail of a free delivery offer such as from Asos, you will only have to pay the €3.50 charge.

Another way to keep costs down is to give Parcelmotel’s Belfast address when ordering from a UK site – if it offers free UK delivery. Then you will only have to pay the €3.50 charge to get delivered to your local ParcelMotel site. But watch the small print. If you can’t collect the goods within two days, a further €3.50 charge will apply. Alternatively, you can get it delivered to another address for €10.50.

Similarly, consider the weight and size of your package before using Parcelmotel. It only accepts packages sized between 41x38x64 cm and with a maximum weight of 10kg. Packages exceeding this but less than 35kg will cost €7 and must be collected from a Nightline depot, rising to €14 for goods over this weight.

You should also watch out for sites that might send your items separately rather than bundle them into the one package, such as Amazon. This could increase the total cost of delivery.

In a similar vein, ParcelConnect is a new service from Fastway Couriers, which is launching a service connecting with retailers such as Asos and Littlewoods early this year, allowing you to pick up your package from your local convenience store.

Another option is to request that your goods are delivered in-store, which means that you can collect at your own convenience, and the service is free. While this is not always possible, depending on the vendor, many of the bigger chains, such as Next, M&S and Dunnes, now give you this option. Typically you will be given a week or so to collect your goods. Remember for in-store collection that you will need to bring some evidence of the order, eg a copy of on your phone – as well as some ID.

Can I return goods purchased online?
Legally, you not only have the same rights when you purchase goods online as you do in a store – they are even better. Under the Distance Selling Regulations, online vendors are obliged to offer a return on goods, even when the buyer has simply changed their mind.

However, while this is all well and good, actually returning the goods can be difficult, even if the procedures have improved over the past few years, particularly given that many of the larger chains now have dedicated Irish websites.

The cheapest and possibly easiest option is typically to restore goods instore, as no charge will apply and you should get your refund or exchanged item there and then. Next, M&S and Dunnes Stores are just some of the outlets offering this option, while others, such as Zara and Debenhams, also offer free return by post.

However, beware if using PayPal. It may be a very efficient way of paying for goods without disclosing your card details to all and sundry but, if you use it to pay for goods online, you might find that you are treated slightly different when it comes to returning the goods. Dunnes Stores, like many retailers, will not allow PayPal orders to be returned to a store. They must be returned instead to the dispatch centre at your own cost.

If the outlet does not have a physical presence in Ireland – or at least one in close proximity to you – you will have to return by post, and this is where the charges can apply. With Asos for example, you will have to pop your dress or jacket in the post and post it back to the UK, which can be expensive. Also, you are responsible for the goods, so you are typically advised to send it by registered post which can increase the costs.

Another option is to use Parcelmotel to return your goods. This costs €4.50 for a small parcel rising to €6.50 for a larger parcel, if sending the parcel to another Parcelmotel. The costs rise to send it back to another address. Also, remember to do your returns in a timely manner. Easons for example, only allows seven days after dispatch to return goods.

What charges

on orders from the US?
This is where online shopping can get a little bit trickier. You've purchased your goods on a US website at a rock-bottom price, and even with the hefty delivery charge, you still feel like you got a good deal.

But you may still be liable to a further charge, such as customs duty, excise duty or VAT. While there used to be tricks to get around this, such as asking the sender to indicate that the good was a gift, or to underestimate its value to incur a lower customs charge, the Revenue has tightened up its oversight of this area. And, it warns online shoppers that misdeclaring or undervaluing goods is illegal.

So what charges might you face?
First of all, the carrier, eg UPS or DHL, will likely impose a handling charge for processing goods through customs. At UPS, the charge is €14.50 regardless of the value of the package. So, even if you order a good for $20 (€14.8), you will still have to pay this. This is unrelated to charges imposed by the Revenue.

Next up is customs duty and VAT. The key is that goods up to a value of €22 can be imported without incurring any VAT charges, while those less than €150 will not incur customs duty. Customs duty depends on the type of good being imported.

A useful website to help you work out the charges is For example, a television priced at $800 (€591) and costing €60 to import to Ireland, will be liable to total duty and taxes of €253.04 (import duty at 14 per cent and VAT of 23 per cent), while a further handling charge from the carrier might also apply, as mentioned above. A dress on the other hand, incurs a lower rate of duty at 12 per cent, so a $100 (€74) dress, with shipping costs of $17 (€12.56), will cost €19.69 to import.

Some US sites, such as Crate and Barrel, automatically calculate this for you, so you pay all the costs upfront.

What if the website won't deliver to Ireland?
You've found the perfect dress or pair of curtains – but the site won't deliver to Ireland. Before you give up however, there are ways around this.

Firstly, if the site accepts orders from the UK, you can use the UK address offered by Parcelmotel to ensure delivery of the goods to a site near you. If it’s a US site, you can use services such as that offered by to get the goods delivered to a US address, and the company will then forward the goods onto you. The costs of this vary, but a package weighing about two kilos will cost $74.13 (€54) for active users to deliver to Ireland.

What happens if a package goes misisng?
If a package goes missing before you receive it, it will typically be up to the vendor of the goods to either replace, or refund you the cost. Asos, for example, says that if a parcel goes missing, it will either replace the order, or if the items are no longer available, it will refund the customer.