Up until the beginning of this year, I didn’t bother looking at online stores based overseas. International online shopping is scary for South Africans because The Post Office wants to watch our country burn.
Another thing that has limited my online shopping is the fact that not many stores actually ship to South Africa. I didn’t want to get involved with Aramex or one of those third party ‘use-our-address-then-we’ll-ship-it-to-you’ guys because I don’t want to sign up for services or take the chance of my stuff disappearing.
Eventually, I took the plunge into international online shopping and have since made multiple purchases from two online stores, one based in the UK and one based in the US. Different sites and stores have different rules, regulations, tips and tricks. Read on to find out what has worked for me from each store.
Colourpop was the store I made my first purchase from, and the great experience I had with them definitely encouraged me to try other stores/make more purchases. It started with their end-of-year sale, where a lot of their items were up to 30% off.
I’ve already done an article on what I bought and why, which you can find here. But I will summarise for those who haven’t read the post. I placed my order of about $50 dollars (it had to be $50 or more to qualify for free international shipping) and waited almost four weeks to the day for the package to arrive.
The reason I made such a splurge was firstly because I have a makeup problem, but also because the amount you pay for international shipping (on orders below $50) isn’t worth it when you could just make the order over the limit amount. I know that sounds like shopaholic reasoning, but chances are, you’re not buying a single lipstick from Colourpop every other day, you’re probably making one larger purchase a lot less frequently. So to get those dollars ‘off’ by buying more is smarter… to me at least.
If you really can’t stomach spending +R600 on makeup, find someone else who may be interested in making a Colourpop haul and buddy up. This can really help if you have only a few things you want to try… or if you’re like me, you may have well over $50 of goodies, in which case you may want to split the haul (for a smaller chance of loss, theft or damage to your items).
What to watch out for
While I have had super-duper experiences with all three of my Colourpop purchases, I know some girls who haven’t, and even one friend whose package got lost… TWICE!
That is certainly something to keep in mind. Colourpop will replace a missing package, but only ONE time. That means that if the dreaded PO messes up twice, say goodbye to your $50.
I have a theory about Colourpop that may be something to consider before purchasing. I sent my packages to a P.O. Box address, while said friend sent hers to a home address. My theory is this: I don’t know who Colourpop uses to courier your stuff from the Post Office to your door, but if they use the PO themselves, then your packaged was doomed from the start. The reason I think this is because I know that Cult Beauty uses Aramex, and the process is perfect because Aramex becomes responsible as soon as your parcel lands on South African soil. With Colourpop, I THINK it goes to the PO, which means no one will ever know anything about it ever again… (EVER!) if it happens to go missing.
Custom duties (through the P.O. Box route) are calculated on weight (I can only presume), so it all depends on what you purchase. It’s either that, or there really is no system and someone makes it up as they go (possible). For example, on my first purchase I paid R24 customs (on $55ish). Yes, that number is correct, R24.00. On my other two purchases, each of the same $50ish value (which were made at the same time because I split a huge haul in two) the customs came to about R300. My first purchase was mostly brushes, whereas my second haul was mostly eyeshadow palettes, hence the weight differences and customs differences.
This brings me to my last warning. I tried to outsmart the system and make two smaller purchases instead of one big one in order to minimize the chance of loss, theft, damage, etc. but also to avoid the customs on a large purchase and hopefully only pay two smaller charges that would add up to a smaller amount … That was not the case.
This tactic doesn’t work if customs is charged on weight (but I’m not sure that it is), but it also doesn’t work when the packages come in together, because then the amounts get lumped anyway. I know this because I received one customs slip for both packages, despite them having arrived a few days apart.
The only thing I bought from Cult Beauty’s site was The Ordinary skincare. I probably wouldn’t buy any of their other stuff anyway, purely because it is super pricey and that doesn’t translate well into rands.
Cult Beauty sometimes has free shipping on The Ordinary (probably about every six weeks), which is great because it means you can make those tiny purchases of R150 and not worry about paying three times as much in shipping. It also works well with the ‘customs by weight’ theory.
My actual purchasing experience with Cult Beauty was great. The paying was quick and easy, the order was processed fast, and I was able to track it with them until it left the UK (after which they gave me another company I could track it through).
Friends who have made significantly smaller purchases say that their packages get delivered to their doors in a matter of days (by Aramex couriers). Which means that the waiting period is less than Colourpop, and the need to use a P.O. Box address is no longer an issue, in fact I would recommend using your home address with Cult Beauty.
What to watch out for
The customs, the customs, the customs. I only know how to say this phrase in English, but I wish I could say it in every language to convey the dire consequences I experienced in the quest for soft, blemish-free skin.
I used my shopaholic logic and thought “you know what, I’m only going to make a purchase from Cult Beauty once in the foreseeable future, I may as well make it a biggie”. Don’t make it a biggie. Wait for the free shipping promotion on the brand you want, and do it then!
I waited for my parcel for over a month. After watching the tracking message get stuck at “delivery scheduled” for days on end, I eventually called Aramex, only to be told that I had custom duties outstanding.
My issue wasn’t with the money (who am I kidding, yes it was!) but I was frustrated that I had to call and find out what was happening before they sent me a bill and an account number. I would like to have been emailed that without asking.
I hope that covers just about all the questions you guys could have about the international online shopping experience and any concerns you may have had about Colourpop or Cult Beauty. If I’ve missed anything, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on social media!