Beware the hidden costs of online shopping


Today is Manic Monday, expected to be the busiest online shopping day of the year, and this seems a timely moment to issue some advice.

While the Internet can be a great place to buy goods at some highly attractive prices you need to stay alert to the risk of hidden charges that may negate some of the benefits of shopping this way.

Within the EU, retailers are required to fully disclosed all charges at the point of the sales transaction. If the price looks too good to be true, pay close attention. Some goods like alcohol and tobacco are subject to Excise Duty and if the retailer has not prepaid this your goods could be seized. Additionally, any goods bought from outside of the EU for delivery to the UK may be subject to Custom Duty and VAT Import Duty. Where custom duty is below £7 it will normally be waived, so keeping your basket value low may save you money.

However, if the duty payable exceeds £7 you should expect a hefty bill when the goods arrive at your door. I had this experience recently when buying from, a wholesale company that I now know is based in Beijing, China. Upon delivery, my order of a small tech gadget costing £42 including delivery had attracted additional duty charges of nearly £20. As I wasn’t made aware the goods were coming from China directly I hadn’t expected this charge and refused to accept delivery. The friendly UPS delivery man even advised me that many of his customers do the same with this particular company. Raising a complaint with LightInTheBox brought little initial satisfaction when I was advised I would have to pay a “restocking” fee and would therefore only be entitled to a refund of £18.42, less than half of the money I had spent. After complaining vociferously, the customer service assistance was good and I was eventually given a full refund of my costs, but not before the experience had caused me great inconvenience and cost me precious time.

UK shoppers have little recourse in law if buying from outside of the EU. There’s no applicable small claims courts spanning international boundaries so you are relying on the goodwill of the merchant to resolve your claim satisfactorily. Paying by credit card may afford you some protection and is always wise for high value goods.

So, be careful which sites you buy from. Always check the provenance of your goods and if buying from outside the EU calculate your possible duty exposure. Sites like Duty Calculator can help you make an informed decision so you have no surprises when the goods arrive at your door.

Happy Manic Monday Shopping!