19 November 2009

Shopping online and shipping deals

Some call me gear freak, some call me hopeless shopaholic; I even seem to upset some folks with the latest addition to my kit.
There always seems to be something new, faster, better or lighter.
While I won't deny the accusations I might as well let you know some of my secrets of how I get all that gear.
Some obviously is home made and most of those projects have been documented on this blog.
The gear that is commercially available is generally bought on discount.
Like any savvy sea kayaker that is not overpaid in his/her job I try the most economical way to get the desired items.
Any gear that I am interested in I try to source it from local vendors first.
There are a couple of well stocked shops in my area.
Some of the items I desire may not be available locally or in Australia at all.
The Australian market is considerably smaller than the overseas one and competition here is usually non existent.
Since a lot of goods are not manufactured in Australia (some kayaks and a few other items aside) most merchandise is imported into the country.
Generally there is only one importer for a given product and that by nature leads to an inflated retail price.

Importers and retailers in Australia operate on a larger margin/smaller volume philosophy.
Discount stores of technical outdoor gear are not common in this country.
While some electronic merchandise seems to be on par (if not cheaper) than on overseas markets that does not seem to apply much to hardware for kayaking and outdoor sports.
As a consumer we are forced to pay double, sometimes triple the price of what our paddling friends in USA pay.
I used to work for REI and let me tell you, I got a shock when I moved back to Australia and went gear shopping.
Now, since most items are made in China, I find paying and exorbitant price for inexpensive goods a rip off.
My solution became: shop online.

If doing a price comparison for an item and find it substantially cheaper than if sourced locally, I will not hesitate to buy it online.
Most of my items are usually ordered from trusted large vendors and occasionally I dab on eBay.
Some of my sources (REI, Backcountry.com) even offer a return policy that is just unknown in Australian retail: unconditional satisfaction guarantee.
Since I am an avid consumer of outdoor gear and I tend to use the items that I buy it's just a matter of time that occasionally some gear fails.
I rather pay premium for quality goods that carry a lifetime warranty or I buy brands that have a solid reputation.
But let's go back to shopping online.
Some vendors in USA (they seems to have the best deals) will charge too much for shipping.
Interestingly enough they might ship for cheap or even free within USA but the cost goes up exponentially if shipped to Australia.
The reason being that they use UPS or Fed-Ex as their shipping company since they need confirmation of receipt for the goods shipped (to protect themselves from scammers claiming the goods never arrived).
Some large vendors have restriction for shipping some brands (North Face, Arcteryx, to name just a couple) outside USA and won't ship to Australia (regional market protectionism).
I am fortunate to have a couple of friends in USA that are happy to receive my orders to their home address and then ship forward the goods to me via the Postal Service.
In the end my gear ends up costing me much less than bought (if available) locally.

Some of my buddies have asked me if there was a way for them to do the same.
My friend in USA is not happy to do it commercially (he extends the favor just to me) and unless an agent could be sourced there, the shipping would remain the biggest problem for shopping online in USA.
Just recently I have been given the contact of a possible commercial agent and after some enquires I have finalized a deal.
BonzerImports is an Australian that lives in New York and has a business selling electronic gear.
He is willing to forward ship items addressed to his premises for a flat fee of AU$40.
As a purchaser you would be paying the cost of shipping of goods to his address (often pretty cheap or in some cases free), his handling fee of $40 plus the cost of actual postal shipping that you can calculate (at not inflated prices).
He ships using the US Postal Service.
Shipping costs can be calculated by selecting the desired level on the USPS chart
David from BonzerImports suggests to ship via Express Mail International level.
The chart for a 5 lbs. item looks like this.

David suggests to shop for more than one item at the time so you can consolidate your shipping into one package and have only one handling charge of $40.
David can be reached at
While I have not used his shipping service (I have my friend in Oregon) others that I know have and they assured me that he is honest.
Payment for his service is done directly into his Australian bank account in AU$, and there are no credit card fees for a foreign currency transaction.


  1. I think there is a detail missed here, where you say 'Importers and retailers in Australia operate on a larger margin/smaller volume philosophy.'
    The truth is, most importers bring in such small quantities of brand-name gear that they are treated the same as a retailer would be treated in their home country, rather than a distributor, and are therefore effectively a 'buying retailer', selling to 'retailing retailers' in Australia, with a 40% margin thrown in at both stages. The result is that a paddle which wholesales in the US for $300, and retails for $400, arrives in Australia at the distributor for USD300 + air freight (expensive). They thrown on their margin of say 40% to take it to $USD420, sell it to a local retailer who puts on another 40% here, making it retail for $650 including GST, when you do the currency conversion. It would be a different story if importers were bringing in gear by sea, where the freight is negligible, but our market is deemed to be 'small' and that rarely happens. I don't actually think the paddle market for good gear is small, and if people were more willing to take risks & then promote their products, we would have a more competitive market & not have to go to REI for our gear.
    My USD0.02 worth...!

  2. Mark, I hear you.
    Some goods are imported in very small quantities and the importer is indeed treated as a consumer and his/her costs are almost retail price.
    There are however items that are imported into Australia by the container load.
    I am referring to goods not necessarily related to kayaking.
    So why a pair of shoes that sells like hot cakes (quantity import) still sells for triple the price than in USA? Mostly because a pair of shoes is much harder to mail order (usually a shoe has to be tried on to see if it does fit) and since there is little competition the retailer asks for a higher price.
    Don't get me started on some "fashion" clothing (rags to me, if I had to be honest) where mark ups are of 400% are not unusual (not like your 40%).
    My rant was not just specific to kayaking even if I used reference images of kayaking gear...

  3. Its frustrating when that happens! While living abroad there were so many online stores I couldn't shop from until my room mater suggested using something called a parcel forwarding co. I being me, put a ton of internet hour and dug up some great reviews on this particular co called Shipito. I called them and got to know how the process worked etc. I thought it was absolutely aamzing at what they did..so my seller from amazon sent the stuff to their warehouse and they forwarded it to me. One of their services is USPS which is supposedely the cheapeast compared to UPS or DHL etc. so, I particluarly enjoyed working with them.

  4. Smita, I checked out Shipito.com and their shipping rates are great. Thank you for your tip!

  5. I must concur with Smita. At first I was hesitant when I decided to use Shipito, but after seeing all of their great reviews, I gave it a go. Their customer service is excellent and they have continuously proven to be efficient and economical.


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