With the Australian dollar having briefly achieved parity with the US dollar last week and looking likely to remain strong for some time, buying from US shopping sites seems more appealing than ever. It can be a great way to save money, but follow these tips to make sure you don't lose out.
Picture by squeakymarmot
10. Remember, parity isn't really parity
Even at those brief moments when the Australian dollar and the US dollar are nominally equal, the average consumer isn't likely to get actual 1:1 rates. Buying on your credit card will generally be pretty effective, but you'll still have to knock off a few cents to cover conversion charges and the fact you're not a full-time currency trader. That may not matter for smaller items, but if you're planning to spend thousands of dollars, it can make a difference.
9. Do comparison shopping locally
There's no denying that some items are much cheaper from the US, even after considering all associated delivery and conversion costs, and that many Australian online stores aren't up to scratch. But for anything that's not a unique one-of-a-kind item that you can only buy from the seller, checking relevant local online stores is a worthwhile step before you plunk down your virtual cash. As well as potentially getting faster shipping (and easier returns if something goes wrong), you may also do better in terms of warranty deals. Remember also for some electrical items, buying overseas can be a nuisance in terms of power supplies, picture formats and other regional restrictions. (Consoles and console games, for example, generally won't work
8. Factor in postage charges
Obvious, but people often forget it: while many online retailers have good bulk postage rates, the quoted price on the item page will hardly ever be the total cost. Make sure you've considered total postage costs before committing to a deal, and look at details such as how long the delivery period is and what the delivery arrangements are -- couriers, for instance, won't generally deliver to a post office box, no matter how compact the item.
7. Set up a US account where appropriate
For some categories of items, you'll still need to 'fake' a US address to get the best deals. For instance, parity really highlights the iniquity of paying $1.69 for a track on iTunes, compared to $US0.99 stateside. We'd normally recommend setting up a US iTunes account for the greater range of content, but right now it looks like a good deal even if you don't want to buy anything that's not in the Aussie store. Either way, our guide to setting up a US iTunes account will get you started.
6. Bundle items to minimise cost
Another obvious but occasionally neglected trick with postage: for most major online stores, the postage on a handful of items is often the same as postage on one. Don't fall into the trap of buying extra just for postage savings, but if you're using a wide-ranging general purpose store, then it can make a significant difference to your final bill. Read the fine print carefully: Amazon's postage discounts, for example, won't necessarily apply for items shipped from third-party sellers, not Amazon itself.
5. Find the best seller in a given category
While general purpose etailers like Amazon can make shipping charges lower, in some cases a single-purpose store can have lower costs. Our favourite example remains the Book Depository, which has a zero-postage charge policy no matter where books are shipped in the world. Buying books from Amazon is unlikely to be cheaper unless you're also buying other goods (and as we note under 6, not always then).
4. Make sure you spot credit card conversion charges
Different credit card providers take different approaches to listing their conversion charges. Some incorporate them into the final item cost, but others list them separately. If your bank falls into the latter category, remember to include those charges when you're calculating the value of a deal -- it's easy to neglect them.
3. Contemplate other overseas locations
The sheer scope of the US market means that it's often the most competitive choice, but that isn't invariably the case. When buying accessories such as HDMI cables, for instance, I tend to favour Hong Kong retailers (often via eBay) -- the postage charges are lower and you get goods delivered more quickly. Do some prudent Google searching for recommendations and you may find that even with favourable exchange rates, the US isn't always your best choice.
2. Do some searching for coupon codes
Coupons are all-pervasive in the US market -- no matter who you're buying through, chances are there's some online coupons available if you know where to look. Search Google or Bing for coupons plus the name of your preferred product or etailer, and you might find some useful bargains.
1. Use drop-shippers for non-Australia friendly stores
There's few things more frustrating than finding the perfect bargain in an online store and then learning they won't ship to Australia, but there are options. We've featured a range of providers in the past who offer the ability to order goods in the US and have them shipped to a US address, including ComGateway, HopShopGo, Price USA and WorldPurchases. This isn't always cheap -- there's often a service charge and higher postage rates -- but for unique goods or major discounts, it's a useful trick to have up your sleeve.
Got your own money-saving tactics that take advantage of the favourable exchange rate to share? Tell us in the comments.
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