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International commerce - John C. Kirk

Feb. 15th, 2012

12:56 am - International commerce

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I understand the appeal of buying local products, to support your community. However, there are times when it makes sense to import stuff from other countries. Here are a few useful things I've learnt about recently.

Overseas transaction fee

As I mentioned last year, I've been using Comixology to buy digital comics. This works out slightly cheaper than buying paper copies, but Lloyds TSB charged me a £1 "overseas transaction fee" each time I used my debit card to pay in US dollars. However, I've now discovered that they don't charge me this fee if I use my credit card instead. I'm not sure whether it's significant that my debit card is Visa and my credit card is Mastercard. Normally I wouldn't recommend going into debt just to buy comics, but as long as I keep an eye on my online statement I can pay off the balance within a few days, so I'm not accruing any interest.

Kim Possible DVDs

I originally started watching Kim Possible on Sky, back in 2004. Since then, I've bought a couple of "feature length" DVDs (three episodes stuck together): "A Sitch in Time" and "So The Drama". More recently, Disney have produced boxsets of seasons 1 and 2. Unfortunately, these aren't sold directly in the UK: I could either import the region 1 version from Amazon.com or the region 2 version from Amazon.de. Going to Germany was cheaper, and I don't have to worry about multi-region issues (although my DVD player is "chipped" anyway). The main snag is that I don't speak German, but Google Translate is quite useful in situations like this.

The shipping was also a lot quicker: I ordered them on Saturday morning (10th December) and they arrived in London on Tuesday (13th December). That's particularly impressive when it was so close to Christmas. The packaging is in German, but when you put the disks in you get a choice of languages, with English as the default. All in all, I'm very impressed, and I hope that they release the remaining episodes soon (ditto for Gargoyles).

AXA Nano Plus light

When I'm cycle touring, I tend to carry a few electronic gadgets with me, e.g. my mobile phone and helmet camera. These need to be recharged, and I think it would be even more of an issue if I had a smartphone or a satnav. My new Roberts bike (still being built) will have a hub dynamo, like the last one and my Brompton. Ideally, then, there would be some way to get USB power from this, to "trickle charge" a gadget. There are a few products on the market, and for some reason most of them come from Germany. Maybe this is similar to what I noticed when I went there, e.g. the vending machine with an improved design. Here are a few options for bike power:



I liked the look of the AXA Nano Plus, and Roberts said that they'd be happy to fit it if I could get hold of it. The slight snag is that I couldn't find a UK supplier. Over on the CTC forum someone else helped me out, by finding two German websites that sold it: Fahrrad Saturn and Rad Speyer. (Again, Google Translate allowed me to decipher these websites.) Rad Speyer had it in stock, but wouldn't ship to the UK; Fahrrad Saturn would ship to the UK, but didn't have it in stock.

So, I pre-ordered it from Fahrrad Saturn. They charged €86.95 for the light + €16.50 for DHL shipping, and they offered two payment methods: either PayPal (add on 1.9% and €0.35) or a bank transfer in advance. Lloyds TSB charge £10 for an international bank transfer so PayPal looked like my best option. That worked out at an extra €2.81, i.e. €106.26 (£94.40) altogether. They took the money straight away, and I waited for delivery. Unfortunately, this is where things went a bit wrong. Here's a timeline:

* Sat 26-Nov-2011:
I ordered the light, and PayPal took the money out of my account the same day.

* Mon 28-Nov-2011:
Fahrrad Saturn sent me an email saying that my new order status was "Paid". According to the website, they expected delivery on Sat 31-Dec-2011.

* Sat 31-Dec-2011:
The website changed the expected delivery date to Fri 13-Jan-2012.

* Fri 13-Jan-2012:
The website removed the expected delivery date, and just left a blank space there. Meanwhile, Rad Speyer removed the light from their website: if you follow the link above, it says "Product is not currently available."

* Wed 25-Jan-2011:
The website changed the expected delivery date to Wed 01-Feb-2012.

* Wed 01-Feb-2012:
The website removed the expected delivery date, and just left a blank space there.

At this point, I was starting to notice a worrying pattern, and I had to wonder whether this product was essentially "vapourware". (I had a similar problem with Overclockers in 2004, but I eventually got a refund out of them.) If this was a UK company, I'd complain, or at least email them to ask for an explanation. However, it's a bit harder when I don't speak German. Although Google Translate let me interpret their websites, I'm not sure whether it would produce a sensible translation in the opposite direction. Since they'd got my money, I just had to sit tight and hope for the best.

* Sun 05-Feb-2012:
The "delivery time" traffic light on the website changed from amber to green, and it says (translated) "Usually ships in 1-2 business days".

* Wed 08-Feb-2012:
Fahrrad Saturn sent me an email, saying that my order had just been shipped.

* Fri 10-Feb-2012:
Delivery attempted?

* Mon 13-Feb-2012:
I received a Parcelforce card saying that I was out when they came. The odd thing is that the card was dated 10-Feb-2012. So, this suggests three options:
a) The Parcelforce worker was lying.
b) The Parcelforce worker put the card through the wrong door and it took a few days for my neighbours to redirect it.
c) The Parcelforce worker put the card through the right door, but my upstairs neighbours picked it up by mistake and didn't get round to putting it back on the communal staircase for three days.

* Tue 14-Feb-2012:
I collected the package from the local post office. It seems to be exactly what I ordered (including USB socket). The box rattled a bit, but I had a look inside and I think it's just part of the fittings that's separate. It was protected by airbags during transit, so hopefully it will be ok. I can't actually verify whether it works until my new bike is ready, but fingers crossed.

I think the lesson here is to wait until the product is actually in stock before I order it, unless I'm going direct to the supplier (e.g. buying Carradice panniers). In fairness to Fahrrad Saturn, they delivered the light very quickly once they actually got it in stock, although it would have been nice for them to keep me informed of the delays rather than leaving me to check the website. I'll post an update once I've tried out the light, but if you want to buy one then that's probably the best place to go.

Comments:

[User Picture]
From:susannahf
Date:February 15th, 2012 08:47 am (UTC)
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Could you set up your credit card to pay the whole balance by direct debit from your current account? That way you won't have to worry about not paying off / getting charged interest. Although you will have to be certain that your current account has enough cash in it on the due date.

Re: paypal. I've got increasingly worried about this. Basically, you're foregoing a lot of consumer protection, and relying on Paypal's (sometimes rather odd) complaints system. I'd be inherently quite suspicious of a site that only offers Paypal and bank transfer, and not credit cards, which have a lot more protection.
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[User Picture]
From:johnckirk
Date:February 15th, 2012 11:38 pm (UTC)
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Changing the direct debit sounds like a good idea, thanks. (At the moment, it's just set up to make minimum payments.) Mind you, if I make a payment today then I can pay it off by the end of March without being charged interest, so I'm not too worried about that. I normally just wait a few days, because the email receipt is in $ so I need to find out the equivalent amount in £ on my online statement.

In fairness to PayPal, they did rule in my favour last year (after I bought some dodgy software). I've appealed to the bank a couple of times when I had trouble with credit card purchases, and they were no help at all: they just told me that I had to speak to the company who took the money. Fortunately I was able to get a refund in both cases, but I think that the theoretical protection of credit cards may be overhyped. Still, I hope that these bike lights will eventually be sold by a reputable UK supplier (e.g. Wiggle), once the supplier has sorted out their issues.
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