Anthony Caruana examines the advantages and pitfalls of buying from OS sites and shipping goods to Australia.
W hile we live in a globalised economy certain things haven’t changed over the last 300 years of global trade. It can be really difficult to get an item shipped from one country to another.
Large companies work around this by having their own dispatch and transport systems but for individuals it can be harder. That’s where freight forwarding services are useful.
Freight forwarding services provide vendors with an address they’ll ship to. The forwarder will then on-send the item to your address. Let’s say you’re planning to buy a new electronic gizmo from Amazon but they won’t ship to Australia. You can tell the freight forwarder what you want to buy and they make the purchase on your behalf, shipping it to you from their US distribution point. Other services provide you with a US shipping address that you use as a delivery address and items are then sent on to you.
The other benefit, aside from shipping, is that some of these services can complete purchases from vendors that won’t accept Australian credit cards.
While the process sounds simple, there are several points at which it can all go pear-shaped and make your much-anticipated purchase into a shopping horror story.
It’s most likely that any purchases you make using a freight forwarding service will be made in either US dollars or Euros. The Australian dollar is currently falling against those currencies so our buying power is far weaker today than it was a year ago.
It’s important to understand that exchange rates are volatile and what might have been a reasonable deal last week might not offer the same bang for buck today. So, be prepared for the final cost, once the entire transaction is complete to be different to what you expected at the start.
Some services won’t finalise the cost of the transaction until the entire process is complete. Others provide a firm price at the start of the process that includes some protection, for the service provider, should exchange rates fluctuate. Others simply charge for the shipping from the US to Australia.
Before engaging a freight forwarding service, look at how they charge fees and manage exchange rate changes.
Different freight forwarding services use a variety of shipping partners. For example, Australia Post’s recently launched service, ShopMate, uses the US Postal Service. PriceUSA uses UPS while some use DHL, FedEx and other logistics companies.
It’s worth getting quotes from multiple services when shipping an item. Also, if you’re making several purchases look into services that allow you to consolidate multiple items into a single shipment as this can cut your costs substantially.
In our research, we got quotes to ship an item valued at $150USD that came in a 20x20x20cm box and weighted 3kg. Quoted prices ranged from about $60AUD up to almost $310AUD depending on how fast we wanted the item and which logistics provider we chose.
What if it goes wrong?
We spoke with Matthew from Sydney about his recent experience with ShopMate.
“I ordered an out-of-print book from an Amazon Marketplace seller. It arrived at the U.S. depot not long afterwards, and I paid for the shipping to Australia. After a few weeks of not hearing anything I went to ShopMate’s tracking page, which said it had arrived in Australia two weeks earlier. I phoned AusPost, and apparently it had gone to Customs for inspection, then they’d got the paperwork back from Customs but not the book”.
Anyone who’s lost a parcel in the post knows that Australia Post has processes for launching investigations. Interestingly, they launched two separate investigations for Matthew – an Australia Post one and a ShopMate one.
Matthew’s parcel did show up but it wasn’t all good news.“Since then I’ve received another notification that it’s arrived in the US and asking me to pay to ship it back here. Subsequent emails to ShopMate have gone unanswered and I still don’t have my book,” he said.
This highlights the complexity behind such services. Although it looks simple on the surface, there are many different hands that are involved in shipping a parcel from one country to another. Understanding that and choosing an experienced operator with solid tracking systems and a good reputation will help make the process as smooth as possible.