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To buy or not from overseas ?

Time for consideration and claim (II)

In Europe, since July 2014 the law grants you a time for consideration of 14 days (it was of 7 days before) for any purchase made online, during a fair or contracts concluded by door-to-door salesmen. Some supermarkets (e.g. Saturn) also offer a time for consideration of 15 days.

The vendor is under the obligation to deliver the purchased item in a delay of 30 days. Past this delay, you can request for a refund.

If the product is defect at receipt or does not match with your expectations, from the day of delivery you have a time for retractation of 14 days during which are allowed to return the item to the vendor without justification. The vendor has also a delay of 14 days to pay you back.

If the product is defect you must inform immediately the vendor. The request is admissible only at the condition that the product is new and has never be used (except the first time to discover the problem), and that the breakdown is not ascribable to a bad handling from the customer or a use proscribed and documented in the user manual.

The vendor will exchange the product if this latter cannot be repaired. In this particular case as in the general case where you exceeded the consideration time, you fall in the usual after-sale procedure, the warranty drawing its effects immediately.

What about orders passed overseas where the law of your country or the european law does not apply ? If in Europe, your member country can protect you against hidden defect, foresee a retract, etc, outside Europe, the contract that you signed with a foreign company respects the rules edicted between buyer and seller as described in the terms and sale conditions, reason for which you must always peruse them, all the more the "small characters".

These legal texts inform you about transport conditions, charges, insurance, delay, claim, etc. Legally, if you and the seller are agree, nothing prevent you to submit any litigation to the law of a third country. At last, about litigations and what court will be in charge of this file, it is also written in the sale conditions.

Among the majors online resellers, ebay offers as much advantages than disadvantages. Ebay respects the time for consideration of 14 days but once you ordered an item via the "Direct purchase" (Achat direct) menu, you are required by the ebay rules to pay at the risk that your account be attached with a "refusal to pay" warning at internal use if the vendor opened a claim and you refused or are unable to pay without due motivation and tangible proof.

Ebay is the sole major online reseller to not providing an order cancellation when you select "Direct Purchase". The alternative is to add the product to your basket so that you can remove it later if needed.

Ebay is also the online shop that charges the highest commission on advertisings, additional pictures and sales.

Conversely, AbeBooks and Amazon are more flexible, charging few charges and respecting better the spririt of the european law.

Indeed, even after have validated and paid an item, you can till cancel the order during a few hours without justification nor charge.

And what about Amazon, to take a renowned reseller ? If you do a mistake (e.g. you ordered the wrong book, etc) you have to respect their sale conditions. Even if the company is established in your country, it can edict sale conditions protecting better the customer than the legal conditions that are e.g. limited to a consideration time of 14 days.

To Amazon there are two possibilities :

- Either you purchased a new or second hand item sold by Amazon. You can cancel the order if it is not sent yet. Otherwise you have 30 days from receipt to return the product in following Amazon policies (specially to use a bar code they provide you online) and their conditions of use. A small commission will be credited in the vicinity on your account.

- Or you purchased a second-hand to an independent seller. In this case Amazon is not concerned by the sale nor responsible of the seller. You have the opportunity to cancel the order by sending an email directly to the seller. At some occasions (e.g. during weekends) he will not answer you before 2 or 3 days. But usually your order will be cancelled at no charge if it was not processed yet. If the item is already shipped, you can get a refund.

Note that Amazon grants you also a total or partial refund if the item is broken at receipt.

In case of major issue, you can submit a claim to Amazon. However, know that Amazon has a department in charge of monitoring services provided by its sellers.

In case of litigation with a seller, do keep all your documents (mail, order, invoice, account notice, etc). In case of double invoicing, the law (in Europe at least) give you 70 days to stop a cheque to your bank. In this case do inform immediately the seller by phone or email then by registered mail and demand explanations, and a correction for fear of legal proceeding.

If the material failed to work after this consideration time, if it is expensive you must require from the seller a written engagment on the delay of repair. Beyond the deadline you will have this way the possibility to get an appeal in justice against him. In all cases, if there is harm, do contact a consumers defense association to explain your case.

Voilΰ in a few words the "small snags" to which you can facing.

Now that the classic procedure of repair is understood, let's see how we can protect ourself against these "small snags", and what risk do we incur in ordering material abroad online, and specially in the United States or in countries out of the Euro zone for Europeans, and vice versa, where the described problems will be emphasized due to the fact that there is practically no contact between the customer and the seller. But do never forget that the problem already occurs with any border country...

About warranties

The legal warranty is mandatory and protect you against hidden defects of a product. In that circumstance the Law is the only judge. But you will be already face to problems of time and communication if you try to expertise your material with a correspondent living abroad. 

Your commercial warranty, if there is, is also time limited (1, 2, 3 years...) and does not cover all accessories and charges (shipment, etc). It is often provided with small electronic accessories and electrical appliances. This kind of contract becomes today a marketing factor for enterprises. Indeed most of them accept quite easily a refund for the defective part if for example the servicing last over 30 days or, for expensive parts, they accept a renting at no charge for the time of repair.

If these rules work on paper, practically these exchanges are however hard to satisfy with customers living abroad.

The greatest surprise that we meet in relation with the warranty is its duration : one receive one year of warranty to this dealer, two years to this other one... But unfortunately we often discover it too late, when the device fails to work... sometimes only a few days after the warranty expired!

Let's take a common case. You wish to buy an electronic device in an international fair, in France for example. You learn that the japanese constructor does not offer an international warranty. You say OK, I will content with the warranty offered by the local representative.

During the exhibition, the French seller offers you a rebate on the street price with a one-year warranty. Fine ! you say, and you buy the device and go back home, close to the German border. By chance, you visit a german seller supporting the same brand and, oh surprise, he learns you that he might have offered you a 2-year warranty in the same conditions... Where is Europe you wonder ? It does not intervene at this level but rather in the event of litigation.

I questioned a manufacturer about this difference of marketing policies. He answered me: "Icom Europe GMBH (Germany) and Icom France SA are two distinct companies and ICOM Japan does not propose an international warranty, also unfortunately we cannot assume the warranty of your device purchased out of our network". This is well what we said previously. If this situation looks illogical for the buyer, this is a commercial act as any another one that binds a seller to a manufacturer, of course at the disadvantage of the customer crossing regularly the border.

Extended and international warranty

You can also subscribe to an extended or complementary warranty to cover all options not included in the commercial contract. But often these extensions are more profitable to the seller than to the customer.

At last be careful with the international warranty, even for products purchased inside the European Union or in the last duty free shops. There are chance that your warranty does not apply in all countries (like this occurs with car insurances). In case of failure it will not be always easy to repair it in a store near or to exchange it without adding charges. So ask the seller for reading the manufacturer's warranty and the list of supported international importers *before* any major purchase.

In the case of a repair, ask always to your seller for a detailed note of repair and replaced parts. In Europe the bill must include the nature of the work, parts replaced or added and the duration of repair. In regards of these works and new parts, the seller assumes the same warranty as the manufacturer.

Without these indications on the bill, the legal european texts stated "if the one who realized the work is not in state to repair the product it is of his responsibility to proof this is not due to its intervention".

You can surely buy what you want from abroad and not only from the U.S.A. or Asia if you are nearly sure to never have to service it and send it back at your charge, including twice the local transportation and overseas shipment plus taxes if you didn't pay them the first time. This kind of transaction is valid for a book, a software or collectors items and I personally work this way quite regularly.

But this is already no more valid for optics, electronic equipments or low cost electronic devices. In fact often there are local representatives or dealers of this brand that you can not bypass due to agreements signed between them and the foreign manufacturer. 

So, you could never order a Meade telescope in the U.S.A. if you give a destination address in France as Meade is present in this country. On the contrary, as Tele Vue is not present in Luxembourg I can order all their catalog directly to the U.S.A.

As told me a major US dealer : "Meade Instruments does not allow their USA dealers to ship outside of the USA. They have it in writing and we signed their contract and respect their wishes. The others have no written contract and we would be happy to supply any of their equipment."

A useful trick : for some small purchases but that can sometimes be very expensive, ask the seller to write on the parcel that he will send you "Specimen. With no commercial value". Some do it automatically for all their cheap products. Otherwhise at customs you will have to pay an importation taxe (duty) of  15% for Europe, if not doubled if the product is classified as "luxury product"... 

In this matter, remind that product exported from the United Kingdom or from Switzerland, two countries out of the Euro zone are automatically crippled by an importation taxe of 15% plus 4.5-9% for toll servicing (custom clearance). In other words, that you buy a product in Belgium, United Kingdom or Switzerland, there are much chances that the three companies have the same prices, with a slight fluctuations due to the exchange rate. In all cases, you have simply to add the handling/shipping. And in no circumstance a private client could be payed back for the taxe paid abroad !

Charges and delivery delay

Charges for the transportation

Whatever the foreign country, the delivery cost is not to disregard. Private mail companies transport almost anything but do only insure the value of the support. The price depends on the weight of the package, the type of delivery (its class and priority) and on the distance.

For a standard book or magazine (A4 format for a weight less than 1 kg) sent by post to Europe, charges are of 12 € for a registered mail across Europe and about 20$ from the USA or Asia. For heavier packages, charges can quickly exceed 50 € or 100 € as we see in the below table, without to forget the possible assurance for fragile, expensive or rare items and sometimes taxes.

To read : Import duty and taxes

(example of import charges for a HF radio, sorted by countries)

What are delivery charges ?

Here are some prices (2014) at the start of Luxembourg (they are very similar in Belgium or France) :

Package / Trucker

DHL

FedEx

UPS°

Post

500 gr (book) sent to France (Paris)

65 €

42 €

20 €

4.5 €

300 gr (50x70 prints) sent to the U.S.A. (FL.)

83 €

115 €

71 €

12 €

2 kg delivered in Greece (Athens)

166 €

67 €

155 €

20 €

10 kg delivered to France (N.Y)

50 €

111 €

23 €

16 €

10 kg delivered to the U.S.A. (N.Y)

150 €

182 €

174 €

91 €

10 kg imported from the U.S.A. (N.Y.)°

195 €

164 €

151 €

83 $

10 A4 prints delivered to Australia (Sydney)

93 €

90 €

64 €

4.5 €

Prices are for economy class when possible (not express but quite fast, about 4 days) and VAT included (excepted for parcel posts sent out of European Union), and in all cases the overseas transportation is carried out by airplane. For private truckers, add 1% of the declared value to insure the parcel post (so 2 € VAT to insure a package declared for a value of 200 €). But DHL for example charges a minimum of 12 €.

(°) From New York, it is the rate in "Airmail Parcel Post" class (delivery time 4-10 days) and the price does not include VAT as it will depend on the registerated value. Add 5$ to insure a parcel post of 300$.

For documents (e.g. prints) the insurance contracted by private companies does only cover on the value of the support. In case of damage (lost, etc) the insurance applies after one month.

When you request an estimation by phone, do always confirm that the price includes VAT, insurance, and optionally the pick-up charge at home, many operators giving the minimum cost, and without VAT.

For the post office, the insurance for a package declared for 200 € costs 4 € VAT, to which you have to add the registering (8 €) and the acknowledgement of receipt (2.5 €). However, it happens that the postal service losts packages. Past the usual delivery delay (about 5 weeks) you can either request the vendor to send you again the article or ask for a refund. As vendor, the alternate is to record a claim to the post office. You will have to wait from 3 to 5 months before their investigations are closed (they simply send mails to the destination post office requesting a status) and the insurance applies. Sometimes the package appears again after one or two years.

Each mail company can also provide you a pricelist or an estimation by phone.

°For a parcel delivered from outside the Euro zone, UPS is the sole entreprise requiring a cash paiment at delivery and that has no cash or VISA terminal (in other words, you have the right change or you do not receive your parcel). In your interest, avoid this company that till works as in the Middle Age.

Delivery delay

Except national purchases or from a bordering state or country where the delivery is sometime free of charge and lasts only two or three days, an online purchase means a delay for delivery that depends on the order and the type of service.

Usually, a standard package that does not exceed the A4 format and 1 kg is delivered locally or to a bordering state in a few days (the delay varies between 2 days and 3 weeks).

However, if the package is sent in economy class or from overseas, the delivery delay can reach 2 or 3 weeks. Over 5 weeks, contact the vendor or the transport company, ideally by phone, the package being maybe temporary lost (cf. this USPS claim procedure).

Indeed, express mail companies manage billion packages each year. From time to time a package is not correctly recorded in their system, archived by error before being sent, air mailed by mistake to another country when the name or the adress of the recipient is not wrong. All these cases exist ! Good news, after investigation usually the package is found back and quickly delivered to the client.

This risk existing, it is recommended to register (or request the vendor to register) the package to get a tracking number that will allow you to trace it and find it back easier if you not receive it after a month. But not all vendor provide this service, specially privates, hence the utillity to specify it when ordering.

Note that to USPS, the most used mail express company in the U.S.A., the tracking number is only available (and detailled) if the package is sent overseas in "Priority Mail Express International" or " Global Express Guaranteed" (packages sent in "Priority Mail International" can only be track to Canada...).

If you live in Europe, you must also know that you can gain 4 open days on the delivery delay if the foreign vendor is located close to an airport sort facility deserving Europe (e.g. ISC New York, Jamaica New York or ISC Chicago for USPS).

Indeed, a vendor located more than 1000 km away from an international airport deserving Europe (e.g. a vendor located in Florida or California) will usually send the package by air mail or road to the sort facility where it will be handled and sent by air mail to the client.

Most products purchased online transit by express mail companies. For a standard delivery, the delivery delay varies between 3 to 4 open days inside Europe and between 4 and 10 open days from overseas. Charges depend on the package and the type of service. For a standard registered package (A4 format, less that 1 kg) sent across Europe, charges are about 12 € and about 20$ sent from overseas. A right of center, all steps recorded by USPS to track a package sent from the U.S. west coast to Europe in Priority Mail Express International. An unusual delay can quickly be identified and escalated to the customer service. At right, order tracking on Amazon.fr.

After the custom clearance in the expedition country that can last between 1 and 3 days, the package can also be checked by customs in the destination country, a process that can also last between some hours and more than one day.

In a flawless process, the package is delivered the day following the custom clearance. It will remain to the delivery company as long as it has not been delivered or as long as the vendor does not ask for its return.

Sometimes the vendor signed an agreement with the Post office (case of Amazon). In this case, either the mail company delivers the package to the client or to a relay point listed by the client, or leaves the package in a post office that will notify the client. The package will be at his disposal during 10 open days. Past this delay, the package will be returned to the vendor.

At last, most registered parcels can be tracked thanks to their tracking number via the transport company website. The post office provides a similar service (e.g. for France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany). For international expeditions from the U.S.A., Aftership offers the possibility to track parcels managed by dozen of companies.

Potential troubles

I will never suggest you to buy a large scope or an expensive electronic device from overseas for another reason.

e-trade : or how to buy a pig in a poke if you don't watch out !

What should be the administrative and financial troubles you will face to in case of malfunction ?... An international warranty *does not * mean at all that you can service your scope to your local dealer... That often means that you have to send it back where you bought it and pay all charges (registration, insurance, postage, etc). 

Usually your local dealer or representative accepts however to make you please as long as there is no agreement signed between him and the manufacturer but usually you will have to pay all charges - the warranty could be not applicable - as you haven't bought the scope in his shop or through his network.

Think about that problem a few seconds. In my humble opinion this is not recommended for heavy and expensive items except of course if the only contact is abroad. But in that case subscribe to a temporary insurance for the period of shipment and servicing. And do not forget that your marvelous device will be away for... some months too !

Ask for information *before* purchasing to prevent bad financial surprises and to get an idea of the after-sale conditions. Know that usually devices are repaired to the importer but sometimes the work requires to return it back to the manufacturer. If you bought it abroad, that could cost you hundreds of euros in transport.

Buyers experience

Here is the conclusion of a French amateur who purchased a Meade LX200 telescope in Canada after have compared prices on Internet. Imported via AirFrance Cargo, he followed the classic importation procedure, with a statement of real value, and a personal clearing through customs. He has to settle for the importation rights and charges, about 24% to add to his purchase price. At the end, his profit was of only 10% compared to the price he would have paid in France and he had to adapt the 110V power supply of his CCD to 220V :  "I was lucky, all work fine. But I do not recommend it. There are risks that one dare to take. I had to lose everything!!!" (speaking about the profit of the importation).

Another european reader stated that he purchased via Internet a Nikon F100 reflex camera (classic) directly from the U.S.A.: "No problem, delivered by FedEx, invoice with VAT sent 2 months later from another company. For the warranty, I chose a 7-year international warranty. I spared more than 300 € on a purchase in France or Switzerland". His benefit was about 25%.

What really cost a purchase via Internet

If you buy an device online in a webshop located in the Euro zone, excepted a slight fluctuation of charges, VAT and possible excise duty (on amounts and luxury products), you have not to expect to bad surprises.

If you purchase a device in a bordering country by correspondence, depending on the shop and the delivery company, delivery costs are ranging from 20 € to 100 € for a fast delivery within 2 or 5 days. It is thus sometimes more economical to go on place !

If you import a device out of the Euro zone, and in particular from the U.K. or U.S.A., the power supply will be suited to the local market. So, the battery charger will be delivered with an english or US outlet but that you can easily adapt to Europe standard using this kind of converter. Conversely if you travel with a device fed on the public line, you will need of this universal converter.

On some electronic devices like DSLR, menus, the user manual and CD are usually multilinguals. Conversely, on some compacts purchased in the U.S.A. menus as well as manuals are only available in english/spanish. Only the software released on CD will be multilingual. You will find on the manufacturer website or on some forums dedicated to photography manuals in other languages in PDF format.

For small products, purchased abroad or locally, due to charges the invoice can easily doubled or increase of 25% for a 1-kg package. In these conditions it is more economical to purchase it locally or in a bordering country, as long as you can find it.

At last, if the item value exceeds 150 €, add to this already substantial price possible custom and excise duties if the product was purchased outside the Euro zone. All charges increase the price of your product of 30% and we do not even speak about luxury products charged at 33% plus delivery charges. 

Good news, below 150 € there is a frankness of duty and tax. Good to know.

On my side, I have sometimes purchased items abroad, including oversea and online. When the product was expensive, the package was sent via the usual First Class International Mail or its european equivalent. Depending on the weight and the value of the item, USPS or private vendors charge bewteen 20$ (for a light product) and 100$ (for a 15 kg package).

If the item value exceeds 150 € and is imported from outside the Euro zone, the custom clearance will charge 15% for the importation tax plus between 4.5-9% depending on the declared value. The final invoice can thus quickly increase of 30% or more. 

Buying online remains a way of bying at risk as you can only see some pictures, and not always in high definition, of the product that you want to purchase. In addition, you need to know where finding the information on Internet because it is not always interesting to order online or abroad.

Indeed, sometimes in browsing on Internet weeks or months after have received a product you can discover that you had the opportunity to purchase it in your country or a bordering state 30% cheaper and be delivered the same week. While it is always important to well read the sale conditions (as well as warranty and complaint conditions), in this case importing a product from abroad offers no interest, and has even more financial inconveniences than advantages.

But even buying locally on an online shop, for cheap articles charges can be as expensive or even more expensive that the price of the article and thus double its price. In this context, you can surprised to have ordered a cheap product on Amazon, and receive three items for the same price or... even additional cookies !

By way of conclusion

If buying online is a convenient way to order products that we cannot find locally, this method shows some disadvantages.

As there are in travelling by air or by road with a new product purchased abroad and not declared. Travelling with a brand new article means that you support all risks if you are not insured, and you will probably try to avoid customs to spare some money. Your gain can be consequent (25-50% of the local price) but in the contrary, if your purchase is not damaged or confiscated due to a political ban, charges and duties can change your face from K to L...

Once again buying abroad and mainly overseas is only valid for small items not bigger than a handy luggage, and even in this case the bet is at your own risks, except if you work with a trusted vendor. An informed man is worth two of them.

The other potential risk is to trust in the Internet and its secure ways of paiment. Have at mind that there is cyberpiracy and that malvolent people are on the look-out for any possible victim.

At last, do never buy an item in the haste. Don't be hurry in seeing a nice item on Internet. Identify first the expedition country and the vendor type. Check also the product description because its quality or size could maybe not match with the product picture. In case of doubt contact the vendor and wait for his reply. Read the general conditions of sale and the possible return policies. Then take the time to look on the web whether there is a better concurrent offer or closer to you. In short, buy intelligently and with caution.

Good luck and make the good choice !

Further readings

Buying goods and services online for personal use, European Commission

Internet Right Observatory (B)

Dans la bibliothθque de LUXORION (on this site, in French, about purchasing second hand books online)

Consumer's rights in legal texts or magazines protecting consumers

Manufacturer's and sellers' policy and commercial warranty

Newsgroups about legal rights

For more information

Aftership (tracking for dozen private companies)

France (tracking La Poste.fr)

Belgium (tracking Bpost.be)

Luxembourg (tracking DHL)

Germany (tracking Deustche Post)

DHL

FedEx

USPS

Information Society (European Community)

BEUC (The European Consumers' Organisation)

FINREAD

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