While I lived in the US and back home, I would order cute dresses and jewellery from a great online boutique whose link I found on one of my all-time favourite websites. I am not naming the boutique or my favourite website, because I don't want either company to think I'm being nasty about them - that's not what this rant is about. I only refer to the sites incidentally. In truth, this post describes yet another pitfall of living abroad that I have only discovered by face-planting directly into it.
So the other day I placed my first order from the boutique website, to be shipped to me in the UK. Inside the box destined for me was a gorgeous dress that I wanted to wear to a friend's wedding back home in November; plus some other really cute tops I wanted to wear for work.
The UPS dude delivered the package to my office today, but wouldn't hand it over because there were outstanding fees on it that still needed to be paid. The look on my face must have been priceless, because the guy took great pains to describe the concepts of customs tax, import duty and VAT. I can't tell you exactly what he said, but in my case, those three concepts added up to over 100 British pounds, that he clearly expected me to pay on the spot.
So there the UPS guy and I stood, in the office foyer, at an impasse. I couldn't work out how the high cost of the clothes plus the high cost of international shipping still resulted in such high additional charges. As it was, the extra fees amounted to a significant percentage of the overall cost of the contents. I was outraged, my friends.
The delivery guy promised to return with the box tomorrow, giving me 24 hours to swing into administrative action sort out what I wanted to do. Back at my desk, I placed phone calls to the necessary parties in a swift attempt to right the wrongs, insofar as I saw them.
The delivery company helpdesk lady was responsive (the best adjective I can find for her), because she simply re-explained to me the three concepts of customs tax, import duty and VAT - all the while I patiently listed to her explanation. I then asked her to at least admit to me that all three charges, while understandable in a legal sense, were nevertheless completely excessive in my case. Fortunately she conceded that - a minor victory on my part. Still, the law is the law and if I want my purchases, I have to pay them. Then I asked her what my recourse might be, and she confirmed I could officially reject the package as long as the online boutique was willing to accept the box back and process my refund.
I double-checked the international shipping conditions of the online boutique and while they caution their global customers about some countries charging extra import fees, they never estimate them, nor do they suggest that the charges can be anywhere near 100 British pounds.
So the next call I made was therefore to the online boutique, which was naturally 5 hours behind London and obviously unresponsive at the time that I was calling. A few emails and calls later, I had succeeded in sharing my tale with the voicemail boxes of just about every poor sod who works for the boutique, no doubt ensuring that I have a spectacular black mark against my name on their books forevermore.
On principle, I refused to accept the third (and perhaps most obvious) resolution; namely, that I could just simply pay the extra charges. I have had a really bad week at work and remedying this situation to my financial satisfaction was the only thing I could think of that would make happy quickly.
Later tonight I called the online boutique back and got through to a customer service person almost immediately. She confirmed that the boutique would indeed accept the package back (as long as it was clearly marked Return to Sender), and they would process my refund accordingly.
So while this little purchaser is financially restored, she is still sans outfits and Cinderella ain't got no dress for the November wedding. When that refund comes through, I guess I'll be hitting the London shops. Something tells me this will take more tolerance (and Valium) than understanding customs tax, import duty and VAT combined!