Should you shop online for your new home?

The likes of Taobao, Amazon and many other e-commerce stores have opened up our home shopping experiences to a whole new level. There are certainly plenty more options to shop your home furnishings from, than ever before. And given that many of these online stores offer really competitive prices, it’s little wonder why everyone is hyped up about getting everything online.

But, is it really worth shopping online for your new home? Read on to find out more!

Interior Designer: Maryna Vaseiko

How online shopping works

As you may already know by now, there are two ways you can shop online:

Shopping directly from local brand’s website

Home furnishing brands with local presence, like IKEA, have their own online product catalogs, where you can order what you like online. The brands will then arrange for the products to be shipped directly to your home, with additional charges for delivery and assembly.

Shopping from e-commerce platforms overseas

The other way to shop online is to shop from e-commerce platforms that list products available in other countries, like China or USA.

Although some of these overseas e-commerce stores do offer direct international shipping to Singapore, many prefer to only ship domestically. For such online purchases, you need to engage a shipping agent e.g. EzBuy / SGShop. These shipping agents will give you your designated foreign address e.g. the address in China / USA that you can inform the seller to ship to. The agents will then receive your orders at these foreign addresses and have them delivered to their Singapore pick up locations for you to collect.

Sounds simple enough, right? But, don’t forget that there are many other things that can affect your online buy!

The real cost of online products

One of the biggest reason why we love to shop online is the cheap product prices. Like you could be getting a 2+1 seater sofa, from China, for a hundred bucks! Yes, a hundred bucks!!!

Sounds like a great deal, yea? But, wait! Hold on to your horses. There’s more to this!

Source: Taobao

This hundred bucks is merely the listed price. Don’t forget that since you are buying it online, there are many other costs that you have to consider, including:

  • Domestic shipping fee (For the seller to ship to your designated foreign address)
  • International shipping fee (For the assigned shipping agent to ship the product from the designated foreign address to Singapore)
  • Goods and Services Tax (GST)
  • Service charge and clearance fees (Charged by your shipping agent)

So, for a sofa this big and bulky, assuming we go for the cheapest sea delivery option, here’s the estimated add-on cost*:

  • Domestic shipping fee: $0 (in this case, the seller is kind enough not to charge any delivery fee)
  • International shipping fee: $39
  • Goods and Services Tax (GST): $0 (Since full cost is <$400)
  • Service charge: $12
  • Clearance fees: $1

Yups, that’s right. All these extra fees can easily cost you another $52 or so. Seems like what looked cheap earlier is not that cheap after all, huh?

*Note: These prices are estimated based on economy sea shipping from China to Singapore, based on product weight of 15kg. USA shipments to SG may cost less, but the product prices may be higher.

The research you need to do for online shopping

Besides the prices, shopping online also requires sorting out a whole lot of details.

E.g. What’s the weight of the product after packaging? Does this seller have good reviews? Has any past customer found issues with this sofa? Does it come with cushions? How much is the domestic shipping fee? Can I have discount if I buy in bulk? And blah blah blah…

Sometimes, the answers to these questions are easy to find. But sometimes, these details are either not declared by the seller, or simply wrongly stated. So, you should also consider if you have the patience to do your own share of background research on the product specs and quality, and the seller’s reviews.

This can be really time consuming. Especially if you are shopping on platforms like Taobao which are commonly known for lower quality products, despite their beautiful product catalogs.

Interior Designer: Maryna Vaseiko

Not all products should be bought online

The next thing you need to know is that not all products are worth buying online. These include:

  • Prohibited items (e.g. counterfeits, sharp items like kitchen knifes, essential oils, electronics with battery)
  • Branded products (e.g. 4K TV)

For one, prohibited items will be detained at the local customs. So, unless you don’t mind risking your money, don’t order such items. As for branded goods, it is really hard to tell if the online products are the real deal. For all you know, the seller could show you photos of the real deals, but instead ship to you the fake ones. So, always do a background check if you’re planning to buy branded furnishings online. At the very least, check the sellers’ reviews to see what their past customers have to say about them.

Dealing with lost packages or returns

In addition, you should also consider the e-commerce platform’s service quality and success rates. For instance, how likely is it that your product will go missing during shipment? Or, can you ask for a return if you had received a faulty, or even a wrong product?

The chances of you being able to return / refund online purchases are slim. Because, after all, it’s inevitable that there will be a debate about who is responsible of the damage / error and who should be paying for it. This could be exacerbated, if the issue is only discovered sometime after the shipment was received.

To avoid such mishaps, you could consider buying shipping insurance, or even paying more for better shipment conditions. Alternatively, you could source for local sellers who ship directly from overseas, have the products delivered and are able to arrange for refunds / product exchanges for you. These one-stop sellers do not have to bear any warehousing costs. So, they are not only able to give you a better buying price than the local retailers, but are also able to provide you with value-added services  that the usual online platforms can’t offer.

The Verdict

So, in the end, is it really worth buying online for your home?

Yes, if:

  • it is easy to communicate with your seller and shipping agent AND
  • Your online find is really much cheaper, even after considering the extra shipping fees. So much so, that you don’t mind the risk of product issues and not being able to ask for refund.
  • Your online find is relatively cheaper, but you can’t afford to screw up the purchase. In this case, opt for a trustworthy one-stop seller that can help you do refunds and exchanges where necessary.

But always think twice, if your online purchase does not meet both of the above conditions.

And, in case you’re planning to get your online buys just in time for CNY, do remember to lock in your orders online asap, before the week ends! With the increase in demand during this pre-CNY season, your online purchases can take a longer time to arrive. Happy online shopping!

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