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International shopping without the sting: How to shop smarter online

Posted: 31 March 2020 4:00 pm
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The popularity of online shopping grows on a daily basis and in 2018, Aussies spent more than 27.5 billion on online purchases alone. The results for the 2019 spending totals are still being calculated, but based on the trending annual increase, we're expecting those figures to be record-breaking once again. The fact of the matter is that Aussies love shopping deals, but we also tend to be careful when shopping online.

While most Aussies do tend to be fairly cautious when shopping online, it's important to think about shopping savvy too. Are you doing everything you can to get the most out of your money? And, do you know everything you need to ensure you enjoy a safe online shopping spree?

Fear not. In this article, we will address the concerns of shopping online, explain how you can avoid incurring additional costs and what you need to do to always stay safe when shopping online. Scroll on to see our top tips for Australians.

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How to stretch your money to the maximum

In this modern-day economy it's crucial to spend wisely; here's what you need to know to do just that.

  • Remember that international stores are required to charge GST. Previously, overseas online retailers weren't required to pay GST (Goods and Services Tax) on purchases below $1,000. However, following the new legislation that came into effect on 1 July 2018, international retailers are now required to pay GST even on lower value items. This could see your cart's total rise at the checkout when shopping with retailers operating outside Australia.
  • Compare prices. Plenty of retailers stock the same products or brands, whilst very few actually offer to match the prices of their competitors after you've completed the purchase. Always do your homework and shop around to check you aren't missing out on a better deal on the same product elsewhere before completing an online purchase.
  • Investigate shipping fees. Many retailers offer free shipping over a specified minimum spend, but what they won't advertise is that often the free option is not insured and can have extremely lengthy timescales. Not to mention that there are online retailers that will make you wait up to 35 working days from dispatch before they'll deem something to be lost in transit and send you a replacement. On top of that, many international retailers restrict their free shipping offers to customers shopping within their specific country of operation too. Expedited delivery will usually be offered at a premium as well, so work out whether it's worth paying for and factor these additional fees into your price comparison to shop smarter. Always look further into a retailer's shipping information before committing to a purchase. Freight forwarding is another option you may like or need to consider. Given that many international retailers won't ship outside of their countries, the services given by a number of freight forwarding providers are becoming a popular way to shop through sites you wouldn't ordinarily be able to. But, be aware these services don't come cheap. Check out our ShopMate review and comparison page for further info.
  • Be aware of the returns process. The majority of online retailers won't cover your returns fees in change-of-mind cases. And, when shopping with retailers that operate outside Australia, you could end up shelling out a small fortune in returns shipping charges as most retailers will require that you ship unwanted products back to their country of operation. Always be sure to check out the returns information page of a retailer before making your purchase and be aware of where you stand should you need to return an item.


  • Watch out for foreign transaction fees. A hidden cost you won't know about until it happens is the currency conversion charge. Credit and debit card issuers will often charge you a transaction fee of 3-3.5% of your purchase in order to convert your AUD$ into the currency used by the retailer. This can be avoided by only shopping with retailers that accept Australian dollars, or alternatively by choosing a card such as the Skye Mastercard that offers 0% foreign transaction fees.
  • Use a travel card. Although you'd usually associate travel cards with physically travelling, they can actually be really handy when it comes to shopping online too. Choose a travel card that operates using the currencies you frequently use when shopping online, for example, US$ or GBP, top up the card with the relevant currencies and then use your travel card when checking out with international retailers.
  • Use coupons. At Finder, we specialise in bringing you the very best deals, which includes a long list of discount codes and coupons to help you save on online orders. We also publish shopping deals in many other countries too. So, if you're shopping with an international retailer, it would be worthwhile visiting the local Finder site in the country you're shopping in too. Be it fashion, food, furniture and homewares or something else entirely that you're shopping for, take a look at our partnering brands pages first and see how much you can save.
  • Turn off your ad blocker. If you use an ad blocker to prevent pop-ups, it's a good idea to turn it off when shopping online. Often doing so will result in you seeing a slew of pop-up boxes with current promotional offers such as get 10% off when you sign up to the newsletter. Checking the social media accounts of international sites is also a great way to find active discount codes and promos. However, be aware of fake social accounts for real stores and just fake socials in general!

How to stay safe online

As the popularity of online shopping continues to rise, so too does the number of fraudsters that pose a threat to our online safety. In 2018, a massive 1.8 million fraudulent credit card transactions were reported by Aussies. These transactions totalled a massive $249 million and with that in mind, it's more important than ever to make sure you're taking the extra steps required to keep yourself safe when shopping online. Here's what you need to know to stay safe when shopping online:

  • Look out for the padlock. Secure sites will usually feature a padlock icon on the left-hand side of the URL bar. This demonstrates that the site is safe and secure.
  • Don't shop using public Wi-Fi. As a general rule, public Wi-Fi networks are not secure. As such, you should avoid doing any online buying when using one as doing so could put you at risk of identity theft.
  • Don't be fooled by deals that seem too good to be true. Online marketing campaigns are becoming a popular way for cyber criminals to lure in their victims. It's advisable to avoid any suspicious links received via email or text, and dodge dodgy pop-ups where possible. If a deal seems too good to be true, it's usually because it is.
  • Use your common sense. If a retailer is asking too many questions during the checkout process, it's usually a good indication that there's something not right. In this case, abort the transaction and add the site to your blacklist.
  • Shop our partnered brands. Finder only works with trustworthy and reputable brands, so if you're looking to branch out from your usual stores, you're sure to find a great alternative in our impressive catalogue of partners.
  • Switch up your password combination. Never use a password you've used elsewhere when creating an account for an online shopping portal. And, wherever possible always use a 2-factor security process, especially if you're choosing to store your credit card details.
  • Check that the payments correspond. Once you've completed your purchase check your bank account or statement shows the payment amount you're expecting.
  • Avoid unusual payment methods. If a retailer is asking for up-front payment via money order or wire transfer, there's a good chance that something fishy is going on and to stay safe you should get out of there and blacklist the provider.
  • Contact details are telling. Check whether the online retailer lists detailed contact information. If you can only find an email address, or worse, just an email contact form, you'd probably be safer considering an alternative store.
  • Do your research on current scams. Be aware of what scams are rife right now and know what to look out for.

And, when shopping with international retailers, look for local info and advice on scams. If shopping in the US, you'll find useful information here: https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us/

You can also find some great advice to help you stay safe at:

Disclaimer: This is general advice only. Consider the product information (including its terms and conditions) and your own circumstances before you make any decision about the topics or products discussed. Compare your options and get advice if you are uncertain. Hive Empire Pty Ltd ACL 385509; CAR 432664.

Pictures: Getty Images

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