Over the years I have purchased a lot of things from overseas. Everything from helmets to bridles to boots to saddles, from 6 different countries and at least a dozen different shops. I’ve gotten some really fantastic deals by doing this (my $1050 CWD, my $250 GPA Speed Air, my $110 Animo breeches, etc etc) and also been able to obtain products that are just not available to us here in the US. By now I feel pretty confident and comfortable with it and I’ve had several people ask me about it, so I figured I would share some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Do your research
I always Google the heck out of a company before I give them my money. If there isn’t a lot of feedback to be found, or you’re still unsure, find a horsey forum in the country the shop is in and ask them. If English is not their first language and you don’t know their language, use translate tools the best you can and apologize profusely. Usually between their English and your bad translation, you can communicate well enough to find out what you need to know.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
When in doubt, ask the shop. It’s always better to ask too many questions than not ask enough and end up disappointed. If they aren’t in an English speaking country it’s still pretty likely that they have someone on staff who can communicate with you. Sizing questions, color questions, detail questions: ask! Just be polite about it and keep your communications short, sweet, and to the point – especially if English is not their first language. If you find something on a website that doesn’t say anything about shipping to the US, never be afraid to contact them and ask. I’ve gotten several things from shops that do not advertise as offering international shipping.
Be sensible about sizing
It’s really hard to guess sizing on things, so always take as many steps as possible to feel confident in your choice. Be it a bridle, or boots, or a jacket, or breeches… if you’re a creative Googler you should be able to find some kind of information about how sizing runs. If you’re really lucky/persistent you might even be able to have the shop get some exact measurements for you, or find someone else who has the item (again – forums are handy for this) and would be willing to measure. Never ever blindly trust a size chart. You also need to really know your own measurements – be it for your horse or yourself. Not what they were a couple years ago, or a couple months ago, but today. Measure, measure, measure. Keep in mind: they use centimeters.
Save money where you can
Just like US tack shops, a lot of overseas shops offer regular sales and coupon codes to people who sign up for email notifications. I’m constantly getting 20% coupon codes from Divoza, sale codes for up to 50% off from Selwood, emails about upcoming exclusive sales, and other things like that. It’s up to your own judgement as to whether or not it’s worth the occasional email clutter and annoyance of sorting through these offers, but they’ve saved me quite a bit of money in the past so to me they’re absolutely worth signing up for. Many times they’re good enough to offset the higher shipping charges, which are usually between $20-30 for regular packages and $150-200 for large items like saddles.
Know what you’re paying for
A lot of European tack shops already have VAT (value added tax) included in their pricing. US buyers are exempt from that tax, which is usually somewhere around 20%. If the website is set up well for international customers, most of the time they will have a way for you to select your country and prices will change according. Many times, however, they do not. And sometimes their shopping cart will let you go all the way through payment without taking away the VAT, so if you don’t know you’re exempt from it you may end up paying it without realizing that you didn’t have to. If you see that VAT is included in the pricing, contact the company and make sure that you aren’t paying it. Always read the fine print on the website, read through the FAQ, and read through the shipping policies. If the website doesn’t have a USD currency converter built in, open xe.com in another window and use it to figure out your costs. Not all of Europe uses the Euro! Know your currency. Also be aware that sometimes you will have to pay a duty on items. This has only happened to me when the item was sent via FedEx, and the charges are reasonable, but if you’re not expecting it then it can be a bit of a bummer.
Choose your payment method wisely
Some credit card companies charge a conversion fee when paying in a different currency. Make sure you educate yourself before selecting how you want to pay. You also want to make sure that you’re very confident that you will have some protection with the method you choose, just in case things do go awry and you’re in the position of having to get your money back. I always use Paypal whenever I can, because they don’t charge me a conversion fee and because I’m comfortable with their buyer protection. Use whatever works best for your needs.
Have realistic expectations
I’ve had things take everywhere from 2 days to 6 weeks to get to my door. If you’re in a real time crunch, buying overseas is probably not the way to go. Also keep in mind that with most carriers, international packages require a signature in order to be delivered. Stay on top of this as much as you can. I once had a postman forget to leave a delivery notification on my door and my package just sat at the post office for a couple weeks, unbeknownst to me. It was one day away from being returned to sender when I finally realized I should call the post office and ask if they had my package. Also remember to take into account the time differences for overseas companies, holidays they might have that we do not, etc.
For the most part I’ve been really pleased with all of my international purchases. I’ve never been ripped off and, barring one item, I’ve been very pleased with all the things I’ve gotten. I’ve never had a problem with anything not fitting. Overall I would say my success rate is as good as if not better than domestic purchases, because I’m generally a lot more careful and take the time to research more. As long as you’re intelligent and exercise good common sense, buying from overseas can be a really great way to get nice stuff at a decent price. Don’t be scared, just use your noggin!