Musing #44: Shipping from US to India (eBay GEB, Amazon, HopShopGo)


Despite rampant globalisation, there are always a few things that are seemingly out of reach. On the flip side, you can almost get anything you want if you are prepared to the pay the price for it. Custom duties make importing a financially challenging decision, perhaps rightly so, and hence there must be a need rather than a want for those items. However, as human nature goes, it is always the latter and that is mostly the case with me as well.

I am of course not new to importing items that I deem to be worth their price. However, importing anything was not under consideration until eBay launched its Global Easy Buy service in India several years ago. Since Flipkart or Amazon were not in vogue or even existence back then, this service was quite useful in getting hands on some products that are easily available today. However, the major international reseller on eBay, i2cworld_inc is extremely unreliable as their order acceptance rate is around 1 out of 5. Most of the times, the excuse is that the item is unavailable with major retailers when in fact it is listed on every major retailer's site. While I was able to use coupons with this service a couple of years ago, they no longer work with GEB products, even the ones issued by banks. There is no major appeal in using this service, though it is still useful for some items that are only listed on eBay.

The other major and extremely reliable option is to use Amazon. However, there are in fact two import services that are independent of each other. The major one is the International Shipping option offered directly by Amazon.com. The inventory of items is limited but is far greater than what is offered by the other service - the Global Store on Amazon.in. Also, the USD payment is usually cheaper on account of lower conversion rates offered by the credit card provider in comparison to what Amazon charges. The INR rates on the Amazon.in Global Store are on par with the Amazon converted ones and hence a bit more expensive. However, on the flip side, one can avail of the cashback offers that can make the INR purchases cheaper than the USD ones on Amazon.com.

Lastly, there are the forwarding services that allows one to purchase anything under the sun, at least as long as it is not perishable. I had registered on multiple sites but never used any of them since I never quite liked the uncertainty of not knowing how much I will end up paying. However, I finally bit the bullet a couple of weeks back and decided to have a go, if for nothing else than to take in the experience.

HopShopGo had a new user offer which included free Express shipping upgrade along with $10 and 20% off on shipping. I decided to go with two relatively lower priced products to check out whether consolidating packages results in any savings in comparison to other services. The finance didn't quite work out the way I had hoped as I barely ended up saving anything in comparison to purchasing from international resellers on Amazon or eBay. However, the HopShopGo service itself delivered as expected. I would sum up the experience using the following salient points:

1. The unique "c/o" identifier may not be included by the merchant shipping the product, in which case it is opened by HSG and you have to provide the tracking details to confirm the same.

2. If the product arrives without an attached invoice, then the onus falls on you to declare the value of the goods.

3. I had ordered 2 items weighing less than 150g each but HSG rounded each one to  0.5 kg resulting in a 1 kg shipping weight. No repack is allowed for such lightweight items.

4. On the other hand, DHL declared a total shipping weight of 0.45 kg, which means the added weight was to HSG's benefit.

5. When calculating the CIF (cost, insurance, fright) value, HSG used the shipping cost value exclusive of their discounts. Due to this, the CIF value ended up being more than twice the value of the goods.

6. The Indian customs added 10% customs duty on the CIF and then another 28% IGST on the cumulative value of CIF and Customs. ED and SHE cess, though not amounting to much, were added as well.

7. The biggest kicker is DHL's handling fee of ₹500 along with another 18% GST, even though they cleared my package together with 10 others.

Looking back at all the experiences, I would certainly say that Amazon's Global Shipping is the best option available, if you are indeed able to find what you need. Forwarding services hardly save much, though some benefit can be realised by combining packages and picking out the odd items that Amazon wouldn't ship. Anyway you cut it, there is no small price to pay for protectionism.

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