Chances are, during the holiday season you either purchased something online for yourself, or (if feeling a bit more generous) for someone else.
That's what I would have thought, anyway. Everyone I know seems to buy stuff online. But it turns out that Ireland comes in well below the average in the EU for online shopping. Barely half of us in Ireland – just 51 per cent – had bought something online by the second quarter of last year, according to an EU Eurostat survey released in mid-December.
By contrast, our neighbours in the UK topped the survey, with 81 per cent making online purchases. The close runners-up were, predictably, the Nordic countries, with Denmark at 79 per cent, and the others also in the 70+ per cent range.
The European average was 65 per cent. Most bought either clothes or sporting goods.
Initially, the Irish figure surprised me. Here we are, an acknowledged international technology hub. We have the youngest population in Europe. The fastest growth in e-shopping is amongst younger shoppers.
But then I remembered how ridiculously difficult it can be to buy anything from our near neighbours. For some bizarre reason, a staggering number of UK retailers do not seem to want to sell – or perhaps more precisely, ship – anything to Ireland.
When they are willing, the proposed shipping cost, which inevitably and annoyingly only pops up when you are in the closing stages of making a purchase – having filled in address and credit card forms – is astronomical, bearing no relation whatsoever to typical parcel shipment costs between the countries. I’ve been given shipping costs of around €25 for a small parcel. Yeah, right.
Just as irritating is approaching the very end of the purchasing process only to get a message stating either that the company won’t ship to “Eire”, or noting that you must email or ring them to get a shipping quote.
No doubt like like most people in Ireland, I give up right then. Purchase lost to the UK retailer. Having gone through this umpteen times, I now try to check a company’s shipping policies (usually there’s a link to them on the homepage) before even starting the shopping process on a website.
Amazon in the UK is a particular nightmare. Some things are sold and shipped by Amazon, which does deliver to Ireland, but increasingly items come from other, UK-based vendors, many of which will not send anything to Ireland.
As a result – tired of getting the “can’t ship” message – I’ve now abandoned Amazon UK for anything other than occasional books, Kindle downloads and CDs.
More often, I stick with the small number of UK retailers I know will ship without an issue. Or, I use websites in other EU member countries, which often are available in an English version (or you can shop without too much hassle using Google Translate on the page).
European sites generally have realistic shipping prices and in many cases, charge nothing at all. For example, I frequently use the pet supply website Zooplus, which has a .ie version, but is actually a German based company, shipping from Germany (thrifty shopper tip: there’s more product variety, and often lower prices, if you use the German .de site).
Order more than €40 of goods and Zooplus ships – quickly – for free. So do lots of Irish websites, now, too. So what’s the issue with British retailers?
Maybe they have so many UK-based customers they don’t feel they need to ship and sell to Ireland. But it sure seems ridiculous not to want to sell more, and increase revenue. Maybe the online retail scene is a microcosm of British attitude, revealing why a Brexit seems to appeal to so many. They’re happy just to buy from and sell to each other, perhaps?
But come on: Ireland is a major UK market for conventional (or more appropriately, old style, more limited) selling. Why are online companies in the UK so reluctant to use the internet – you know, that platform that gives you global reach – to sell more to their neighbours? Go figure.
I have a feeling the hassle in buying from the UK may well influence the low-ish Irish online shopping statistics. However, one company’s marketing obtuseness is another’s opportunity.
A number of companies now help Irish customers overcome this headache by offering virtual UK addresses. Companies such as Parcel Motel, ParcelFlow, DPD Parcel Wizard, and Parcel Connect all provide this service.
Basically, you sign up for their service online, and are given a virtual UK address. The parcel actually goes to the shipper’s UK depot, and then on to the Irish customer. Some let you use the shipper of your choice, but each focuses on providing very competitive shipping rates, often far better than those from UK retailers.
Until UK retailers decide they want to sell to the rest of the world, a virtual address is your best solution.