News & Press

Ask Santa to deliver from the States!

As Published on: THE DAILY MAIL
14 December 2014

A few nifty tricks will allow you to access U.S. bargains from the comfort of your own home

From cheap computers to half-price clothes and huge savings on cameras, we’re forever hearing how much less goods cost across the Atlantic.

Yet while few of us can afford to jet off to America for a Christmas shopping spree, there is a way to access those bargains and save huge sums — all from the comfort of your sofa.

For although online shopping overseas sounds daunting — and is not as simple as just redirecting yourself to U.S. websites — with a few nifty tricks you could save yourself thousands of pounds, especially on big-ticket electronic items. And that’s even when adding postage and tax costs.

Take a digital SLR camera, for example. One of the best and most popular on the market now is the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, which on the British version of Amazon costs a whopping £4,499 new, plus £6.15 postage.

But find yourself on the American site of Amazon and you can pick it up for £2,369 — nearly half the price. Even when you’ve added on taxes, shipping and duty — upping the total to £3,009.70 — you still pay £1,495.45 less.

Elsewhere, an Apple iPad Air 2 64GB from the U.S., with taxes and postage added, would cost £444.98 from Walmart.com, compared with £479 from Apple.com in the UK.

You can end up with a J. Crew cardigan and Levi’s jeans for half price.

Such are the savings — and the ever-easier buying process — more people are shopping and shipping abroad. And there is still time to order and receive goods in time for Christmas Day.

‘With online retail we’re seeing geographical boundaries breaking down,’ says Chris Morton, founder of fashion aggregation site Lyst.com. 

‘It’s getting easier for the customer to ship things over, and cheaper, too — especially if you’re interested in designer brands like Ralph Lauren or Michael Kors or J.Crew. Those clothes items are often on sale for the same figure in dollars as in British pounds, making them around 50 per cent cheaper in the States.’

That is why most international companies make it difficult to shop from their U.S sites and automatically redirect visitors from the UK to a website specifically for the British market.
But there are ways round this. For some, such as Amazon.co.uk, it’s as simple as changing the ending of the web address to Amazon.com on the address bar. For others, such as Apple, the more complex web address will include the letters ‘en’, as in ‘England’ — try changing that to ‘US’ and you may find yourself on the American site.

In most cases though, it’s a question of looking at the top and bottom of the homepage for a tiny Union Jack flag or the words ‘United Kingdom’. Near these should be the option to change your territory to ‘United States’ or to click on an American flag.

Huge savings can be made on expensive electronic products such as the Apple iPad Air by buying them on U.S. websites.
Once you have found the correct site and currency, remember that operations abroad do not always work the same as in the UK. When calculating prices you should remember that in many states, sales tax is added at the checkout rather than marked on the selling price.

‘Even if you’re buying through an eBay seller that looks great, you’re often still going to have to pay duty, so be careful buying abroad unless the pricing is absolutely transparent,’ says consumer expert Sarah Willingham, who works with the Government’s online safety campaign Cyber Streetwise.

For goods sold within the U.S. tax varies from state to state and is generally calculated after you’ve added your delivery address, because it usually depends on which state the item is being delivered to. The highest is 9.4 per cent in Tennessee, while shipping to Oregon or Washington carries no sales tax at all.

While delivering direct to the UK might seem a better option, many U.S. companies will deliver only to a U.S. address and insist you use an American credit card. 

But you can get around this by using a shopping and shipping site, which will handle the transaction and delivery on your behalf — then send the goods to the UK. This is when the U.S. state taxes become important.

One reputable service is MyUS.com, which is free to subscribe to after a $10 (£6) joining fee and gives you what is effectively a PO Box for your deliveries. This is in Florida, meaning a middle-ground 6 per cent sales tax.

It also launched MyUS Shopping, a Chrome and Safari extension to let you shop US stores faster and easier. With one cart checkout, you'll be able to add items from multiple stores. Once we receive your packages, we'll provide a free consolidation and ship them to you in one box, saving your up to 80% on international shipping charges.

It then puts your packages into one parcel to send to you, potentially saving hundreds of pounds on shipping packages individually.
It will not deal with certain major issues, however, such as negotiating items that could be considered a threat to national security, like advanced electronics and firearms.

The double delivery means you must allow time for a product to reach MyUS.com — for Apple, that is two days — and time for it to ship from its depot to the UK. That’s an average of three days, though over the Christmas period its fastest courier, FedEx Priority, says December 18 is the final day for shipping to the UK.

That means tomorrow is the last day on standard delivery within America, though some U.S. firms have same-day or one-day delivery, which may extend your window.

It’s still down to you to check whether the U.S. saving really does add up once taxes, shipping costs and also custom duties have been added.

If you have goods delivered to the UK you must also pay duty and import VAT on anything over £135. While this can be quite complicated and differs depending on the type of item and price range, services such as MyUS will work the charges out and some sites, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, calculate it at the checkout.

For example, on a Michael Kors handbag with a U.S. price of £142.57 (MichaelKors.com), sales tax at 6 per cent is around £8.55, shipping is £35.08, duty is 4 per cent, so £5.70, and import VAT is 20 per cent, around £28.51 — all told about £220, compared with £285 in the UK.

Just remember to check these factors first, or you could pay more despite lower prices. The UK price for the 11in 256GB MacBook Air is £899, compared with £699.50 from the Apple store in the U.S.. Yet by the time you’ve added sales tax, shipping and UK duty, the actual cost is £925.30 — £26.30 more.

The only way round this is to wait for a sale or try a discount dealer such as Best Buy, which has MacBooks for $100 less.
And not all items will have guarantees. Apple has an international warranty on many products but not on iPhones, because they are bought with a service provider. The same applies to cellular iPads, which are not likely to be covered, while wifi iPads are.

You can get refunds, but this can be complicated and expensive. As services such as MyUS.com check products for damage, you can send products back before they leave the U.S., however.

Sometimes savings may seem small, but if you bulk-buy, you can consolidate shipping prices, making it possible to save thousands on a big spree. That could make it ideal for those doing Christmas shopping in one go — without all the jet-lag.