International shopping from home

One of the benefits of world traveling is shopping for products that are unavailable or less expensive than they are here at home. With the popularity of online shopping, it’s now possible to shop internationally without travelling. I’ve found many retailers that I’ve visited while traveling now have online stores that ship worldwide. Many of these stores are multi-lingual and offer low cost shipping rates to the US.

As an example, I had been buying Mephisto shoes for many years in the U.S. They’re one of the few brands that I find very comfortable and almost an indulgence. But they’re expensive, often costing $250 to $350 a pair. When I’ve traveled to France, where the company is headquartered, I’d often arrange to buy a pair at one of their stores, still at retail, but for about 35% less. A few years ago I searched on line for a Mephisto store in France and came across one in Bordeaux that sells worldwide (

Their pricing, model for model, is much less than the same shoes sold in the U.S. Even with the shipping cost of about $25, I’m now saving as much as $100 per pair and find they often have some shoes on sale, often at half price.

Other examples I’ve found are pens manufactured in the UK and Germany. A Faber-Castell pen was 20% less expensive from a UK store (Cult Pen) than from stores in this country. I’ve shopped for art supplies from stores in the UK, France, and Canada that are either unavailable in the U.S. or much more expensive.

If you’re looking for a specific category, such as leather goods from Italy, it’s difficult to search directly using those terms. You’ll end up with a bunch of sites of importers or resellers. Instead, search for the best leather stores in Florence or Rome, on Trip Advisor, for example, and check each of the store’s websites to see if they sell online.

Anytime we buy online from an unfamiliar source, there’s some caution advised. After all, anyone can create a website full of product pictures by copying the pages of another site. The first thing I do is check to see if there’s a physical location for the store. Not all on-line stores have them, but if one does, it provides some reassurance that the entity has real presence. Rarely do I buy from any store that only lists a phone number and email address; it needs to show a physical location. I also do a google search of the store’s name and the word “reviews” and “scams” appended. If it’s a name brand, I check that the store is an authorized dealer and carries a broad line of related products. Once the sale is made, typical delivery is anywhere from 3 days to two weeks. Never have I been charged for import duties.

I’ve made dozens of purchases over the past few yeara without a problem. The one issue you might encounter is greater difficulty and cost of making a return. That’s why I tend to buy a product I’ve researched and know I will keep.

If you like to shop internationally, try shopping online. It’s easier than ever and almost like being there.

by Phil Baker