We few and frilly tend to buy a lot of our apparel over the internet. We face a lot of hurdles that need to be jumped, and if you plan to buy from abroad then you might face the same! Here are some of the problems you might encounter and how I cope with online retail!
This will all become second nature if you buy from outside the EU a lot, but for someone starting out some of them can be nasty surprises! Make sure you're clued up and do your best to jump the pitfalls.
Use many online translators, a shopping service, or someone who speaks the language fluently, use accurate currency conversion, check the measurements of everything, look at pictures closely, use trackable shipping methods, be prepared for customs and avoid scams by using a protected payment method and non-shady websites.
1. Language Barrier
It sounds obvious but if you don't speak Japanese then this can be a bit of a problem when placing an order with a Japanese company. Most companies offer support in English, but if they don't then you might struggle. Make use of online translation and if in doubt you can always use a shopping service or 'middle man' or ask someone who does speak the language to help you. It can be really frustrating when you're trying to deal with someone and you just don't understand each other!
(Roley doesn't speak Guineapigish and C&D don't speak Doganese but they keep trying!)
I once received a warning notice on a cake-shaped accessory that read "Abhorrence! This bread is the simulation bread. Forbids edible." Some online translation tools can produce similar results so make sure you translate it both ways and try using different websites and tools to make sure you're getting a translation that is as accurate as possible.
2. Currency Confusion
You'll need to convert currency 9 times out of 10 when buying from abroad since the UK is the only country to use GBP!
(Now how much is that in Blobby Beans?)
I usually use the currency conversion tool of whichever payment method I'm using (i.e. Amazon checkout or Paypal). If you're using Paypal, the simplest way to find out how much "X yen" is in Great British Pounds Sterling is to log in to your account, click "send money", and select that you're "paying for goods". Select the currency you're paying with, and enter the cost of the item (plus shipping fee, if you want to know the grand total) and then click outside the boxes. An automatic conversion using Paypal's current exchange rate should appear just below the information you've just entered. You can then just cancel or click 'back' since it's a mock transaction just to discover to exchange rate that Paypal uses at that very moment. Currency values fluctuate all the time, what might be £70 today may be £68 tomorrow, or vice versa, so it's a good idea to keep up to date with the value in GBP. You might find it useful to remember the value in GBP of something simple, like 10,000 yen so you can estimate in your head whilst shopping. There are many different currency conversion websites on the internet but depending on who handles the currency it may not be accurate. It's best to use the conversion tool of the payment method you're using if they have their own.
3. Size Matters
Asian sizes aren't necessarily the same as UK sizes. If an item by Baby, the Stars Shine Bright is labelled "L" then it's most likely not the same as a Western "L". Generally, a standard Lolita brand medium/regular size tends to fit a UK 8 or 10. A Small, a 6, and a Large a 12. I'd strongly advise checking your measurements against the size charts. Most brands have size charts or measurements of each garment listed in centimetres. If you're buying Lolita items, it's good to check the sleeve length of blouses and length of skirts as us folks with Oriental blood tend to be a bit shorter. Even with exact measurements listed, you'll have to check to see if it's the measurements of the garment itself or the measurements of the body it will fit. If it's the garment's measurements, you can always grab a blouse or dress that you already own and compare the measurements of that garment with the one that you're interested in purchasing. In general, the measurements of the garment should be a few centimetres larger than your body measurements in some areas to allow for movement and wearing (a little more if it's a JSK and you need to allow room for a blouse underneath too). If the measurements listed are the measurements of the body it will fit then you'll have to measure yourself! In these cases, the company has usually calculated how much extra space is needed to make it a comfy fit. Make sure you know what type of measurements you're dealing with!
Look for exact measurements as often as possible!
Shoes are sized a little differently. Usually in centimetres. A European 39, a UK size 6, and a Japanese 25cm tend to be about equivalent (I take a 24.5cm which is a 5 1/2 in UK sizes). Consult a size chart and pay attention to the company you're buying from: they may list their shoes in centimetres as well as just a general S, M, or L.
Size can also be an issue when importing fabrics or trimmings. It's not uncommon for shops to use yards instead of metres so you must keep an eye out as you may end up a little short. You may find that the standard width sold in some countries is different to the standard width of fabric shown on your dressmaking pattern, too.
4. Shipping Cost & Time
It's going to take a while for things to get to your country from half way across the world! Things can take a long time to get from Australia to UK, or Korea to USA, but it's up to you what class of journey they enjoy.
Airmail: Airmail doesn't usually come with any tracking when shipped to us (it's quite a lot like our Airmail that Royal Mail offers us in UK). It usually takes about 2 weeks to arrive in its destination country from experience. It's quite commonly used for cheaper items, but for higher value items people usually feel that it doesn't give them the security they'd like. I've never had anything go missing via Airmail but I don't risk it with expensive stuff. There's always that chance that someone will tell you it was sent when it wasn't, and vice versa from the seller's perspective, so it's easier to go with EMS to avoid arguments sometimes!
EMS: The most common method for shops to use as it comes with a tracking number that you can use on Track-Trace.com or your country's primary courier's website, and it usually takes less than 7 business days to arrive at its destination country. (Even from half way around the world!) It's more expensive, but worth it for the extra speed, safety and insurance, and both parties know where the package is at any given time. It gives protection from Paypal dispute cases for sellers, so I'm sure most sellers would prefer that you choose this option.
Surface Mail: Snail mail. There's a reason it's so cheap! It takes forever, has no tracking or special insurance and can literally take several months to arrive, half a year even. I don't know if anywhere still offers this anymore since they'd undoubtedly get a lot of complaints from customers!
... Though this isn't by any means exhaustive of the options in every part of the world, I find that these are most commonly offered. That said, I usually get things in 5 working days from Closet Child who send using EMS, but it really depends on how long your package takes to clear customs when it gets here too. Which leads me on to...
5. Import VAT, Customs administration fees
There's plenty of information on www.hmrc.gov.uk, it's well worth reading up on!
VAT in UK is 20%. Even if what you're receiving is a gift sent to you from a friend or something second hand that you've bought from someone, if it's from outside the EU then it will attract a charge of 20% VAT. I can't remember the threshold for the value that attracts VAT but it's considerably low (things as low as £35 including the shipping rate have attracted import VAT from my personal experience). The VAT is charged on the value of the goods declared on the parcel and it's basically as though you bought the item in a UK store (as UK stores charge 20% VAT in with their item prices unless it's a 0 rated item). If the declared value on the package is in a different currency, you will pay 20% VAT of the value when it is converted into GBP at that time so you will pay in GBP. Be aware of the exchange rate!
In addition to paying up your country's VAT (if any), the courier company that paid the import VAT on your behalf may also charge an administration fee for their services. Different couriers charge different amounts (so DHL will differ from Parcelforce etc) and some charge retrospectively after delivering your parcel, and some charge before delivering your parcel to you. Most will not deliver your parcel to you until you have paid them their administration fee and reimbursed them for the import VAT that they paid on your behalf. Usually, Parcelforce's clearance fee (which is zero rated for VAT purposes) is £13.50, and this is the most recent clearance charge I've paid.
Parcelforce is generally the courier that takes care of your package in the UK when something is shipped here via EMS. Some companies use DHL or other private international couriers though, so check who's carrying your precious cargo!
6. Getting things through customs quickly
If all the forms are filled out correctly it should go through customs when it reaches your country relatively quickly, most of mine spend just a few days sat in Customs before they're sent off to my regional delivery office (I live in Hull, so for me, it's York if it's coming by Parcelforce). Assuming that all the paperwork is in order then it should arrive quickly. If the customs sticker says something dodgy on it, then of course it will need closer inspection, but most sellers will fill this form out responsibly. I have heard of one case in USA when something was seized because it had the word "pearl" written on it, so the office concerned thought that it was full of real freshwater pearls or something like that of a much higher value than the garment inside which just happened to have one or two faux-pearl glass beads on it. Marking something accurately really helps, and for commercial goods attaching invoices to the outside in documents envelopes and including an invoice in the package tends to help.
7. Unhappy Purchases
We've all been there, sadly, whether we just didn't read the measurements properly or the person selling the garment creatively interpreted the condition of the item. You can reduce the risk by buying from shops that have good reviews and nice, detailed photographs if you're buying second hand, and if you're buying new then just remember to check the measurements and what the garment is made from! Most shops and sellers will do their best to sort out any problems you have, and if you buy something that's stained don't worry... I'll be writing up a few washing guides as soon as I can ;)
Personally, I've received a whole slew of hideous or unsuitable things which I've been able to pass on to others who have loved them, or returned them to the seller for a refund. I've also received damaged or broken goods that I've decided to keep and fix. Don't panic when you receive something and it's not up to your expectations or you might not be able to think about good damage limitation!
Sometimes things get lost in translation and sometimes things just don't look the same as on the stock photo, or your monitor makes it look a different colour to how the image is showing on the company's monitor. This is just a general hazard of online buying, whether it's in the UK or from abroad. Ask as many questions as you need to, and don't be afraid of wasting the seller's time. If they want a sale, they'll be happy enough to answer!
8. Things not arriving at all
There are safe ways to shop online (or at least safer ways to shop online!) and there are ways people may try to scam you. If you're worried, I strongly advise paying the extra money to get your item shipped via EMS or another trackable method to put your mind at ease, and pay with a method that offers seller protection such as Paypal. (Don't send your money as a 'gift', it's payment for goods and should be recorded as such, and don't send someone unrecoverable money with Western Union or Moneygram unless you personally know who you're sending it to and absolutely trust them with your payment (such as close friends or relatives buying something on your behalf). I still tend to use Paypal, and I am willing to pay the extra 20p + 3.4% for the protection that Paypal offers.) Similarly, don't send money through the post. That's just asking for trouble. There's always a chance that something will genuinely go missing in the mail or it might simple get returned to the sender before it reaches your doorstep. Keep an eye out for "sorry, you were out" cards (my dog has eaten more than one of these!) and make use of tracking information online to keep up with the location of your package.
9. Illegal and Shady Items and Behavior
Not to scare you, but this is the internet. Lolita garments tend to be expensive so there are a lot of people who like to jump on the bandwagon and charge a lot of money for a really rubbish knock-off. That's not to say that there aren't talented seamstresses, far from it, but if you're looking for authentic items by certain brands then you have to remember that not every website you find if you type "lolita dress" into Google is going to be reputable. There are some wonderful Asian Indie Brands (on Taobao, for example) and lots of great seamstresses and independent labels! There are some websites, however, that steal images from expensive brand websites, edit out the watermarks, and use them to advertise their own garments which often pale in comparison as far as quality is concerned. To avoid disappointment, be on the lookout for stock images with backgrounds that look like ones you're familiar with from other brands, odd blurs and smudges and covered up watermarks, and if in doubt ask on a good forum or community whether the website is reputable or not! There are lots of reviewers out there! (You can always ask me and I'll do my best to help!)
(You can check out my indie brand reviews HERE)
10. Have Fun Shopping!
Yes! Have fun looking for bargains, don't get in to debt on auction sites, and show off your newly acquired items from far distant exotic lands!
If you have any questions at all, or would like me to add anything to this guide, please feel free to ask! You can get me through several avenues. Facebook, Twitter (@missytetra), Youtube, or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I usually use Facebook to let people know when I've made a new blog post so if you don't have time to keep checking my blog, it's a good way to see when there's something new happening!
Thanks for reading, and happy shopping! xx