"Australians can save an awful lot of money by having me buy them stuff over here," says Claudia Sutton, an American who took over her brother's overseas-buying site BoxVoyage.com in 2009 and says that now Australians comprise 95% of her clientele.
While many of her customers are foreigners ordering large quantities of goods such as watches, Australians tend to be personal shoppers ordering a bit of everything.
"We're handling dozens of shipments per week," she says. "Australia's customs laws are relatively lenient compared to other countries. While business was originally very slow because the Australian dollar was quite a bit less than the US dollar, now they're neck and neck."
How to grab a bargain
You may already be excited about the lower prices you're getting in the US, but you can do yourself some favours by searching the web for additional discount vouchers.
Before you complete your purchase, drop by RetailMeNot.com or its ilk and see if they don't have a discount for the shop you're buying from.
You may save 10% or more on your purchase, get free shipping to your US-based freight forwarder, or get additional promotional merchandise for free.
Guide to shopping online overseas via virtual tunnel:
A VPN is one of the tools you need to get around geo-blocked shopping.
Although it needs to be stressed that while you may be able to mask your identity and check the true prices of products (not ones adapted for visiting Australians) you will probably need to use the VPN in conjunction with a virtual credit card.
A VPN establishes an encrypted connection to a remote server in the country you want to connect to and provides you with a temporary IP address, so the online store you are accessing in the US or the UK thinks you are living there.
There are countless VPN services but one of the best and most affordable is TunnelBear.
You download an app, set it up on your PC or Mac (even Android or iOS mobile device) and it creates an encrypted tunnel.
Go to www.tunnelbear.com and choose the download for your computer (Windows or Mac). There are three subscription options. Opt for 'free' to try it out but the free 500MB each month (and an additional 1GB free if you tweet about TunnelBear on Twitter!) isn't going to last long. We recommend the 'Giant TunnelBear' option which costs US$4.99 a month for unlimited tunnelling.
Install the networking software that will establish the secure, encrypted tunnel between your computer and the server.
Once you have TunnelBear running, select the country you want to appear to be surfing from (either the US or UK). And that's all there is to it. All programs accessing the net on your computer will now do so through the VPN.To check that TunnelBear is working, set the dial to 'UK' and go to the BBC Player catch-up service (www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer) which is blocked to Australians. If it works, TunnelBear is working.
New ways of cutting delivery costs
While some US vendors are clamping down on overseas forwarders — with many too-frequent mail forwarders blacklisted and a variety of techniques used to test whether shoppers are in fact coming from outside the US — other merchants are looking at new ways of cutting shipping costs to appeal to customers here and in other countries.
Amazon recently launched such a service — AmazonGlobal service, which automatically accounts for customs duties and allows customers to bundle multiple orders into a single shipment.
It was originally only available in India but has since expanded to Australia, New Zealand and dozens of other countries.
There are limitations — AmazonGlobal is currently only applicable to a limited range of products and its duty calculations mean your prices may be increased.
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