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However, be sure you read the fine print: Gap's site for one warns that "not all products sold by Gap Inc. can be shipped internationally" and that "retail and online prices may vary".

Indeed, fluid retail prices and shipping costs pose an ongoing threat to Australian online shoppers.

"The sites that don't vary prices really charge excessive shipping fees," Madigan warns, noting that many freight forwarders are happy to repackage large shipments to reduce the lineal size and cost of boxes coming to Australia.

How they block you

There are several ways that overseas merchants block Australian shoppers. One is geo-blocking, in which the merchant's web server detects which country you're in based on your IP address.

If you're not in the US, the server may automatically adjust the prices you see, or — as in the case of True Religion Jeans, direct you to an Australia-specific shipping page.

Geo-blocking is usually done to protect territorial rights, although it has raised eyebrows from Australian consumer groups thanks to geo-blocking by the likes of Apple's iTunes store (see our guide on how to set up a US iTunes account) and online game retailer Steam, where many games cost four times as much for Australian customers as they do for US-based customers.

Many sites simply won't let you proceed if you're coming from Australia.

Others will simply adjust their prices on the fly so you don't even know you're being geo-blocked; these can be hard to pick, since the prices will be displayed in Australian dollars and you won't know the original price.

However, you can visit the site using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) client like TunnelBear which can be used to mask the geographical location of your computer.

In this case, you can trick the server into thinking you're shopping from the US or UK, and things may look a lot different.

UK-based online bookseller Book Depository (, whose free-shipping offer has made it the go-to destination for many Aussie book buyers, has recently been targeted by bargain hunters who point out that it's possible to use a VPN service to get even bigger discounts than those already on offer.

This is because Book Depository geo-blocks customers and adds in a nominal shipping fee to the presented price for its products; if it thinks you're from the UK, the presented price is lower.

Note that using a VPN won't always work, because there are other ways that overseas retailers can restrict the sale of goods to Australians.

One way, which has become increasingly popular with vendors selling non-physical merchandise like gift voucher codes and recharge cards, is to look at the credit card number being used for the purchase.

Each card issuer has its own numbering system — for example, American Express uses the third and fourth digits to represent the card's currency — and merchant banks can parse the card number to establish which bank is being used to complete the transaction.

If they determine that you're trying to buy products using an Australian card, they simply won't play.

This type of block is harder to get around — virtual credit cards are one emerging albeit alternative — but the most effective, trouble-free way to buy from overseas is to use an overseas-based shopping or parcel forwarding service.

Those merchants are buying with US-based cards and will experience none of the frustrations that card-blocking can cause.

The final road block to buying from an overseas merchant is, of course, the shipping address.

No matter what prices you see or which card you use, ultimately you need a way to get your products — and if you specify a shipping address in Australia, the merchant isn't going to have to do much to block the shipment.