Tips for slow travelers on e-commerce

theo holds an e-commerce package sent to malaysia

Last Updated on May 28, 2023 by Ellen

I received another package delivery yesterday. This time, an eBay purchase from a British seller, shipped to Malaysia by the U.K. Royal Mail Service, then handled locally by a partner agent called POS.

Sound confusing or unreliable? Not really.

In fact, throughout the COVID crisis time that we spent in the Philippines – and even before that, in Europe – we’ve successfully used online retailers and shipping, just as folks do in America.

If you have an interest in a slow travel lifestyle or might consider living overseas, our experiences should give some insight into international e-commerce realities.

A tip for expat slow travelers on e-commerce deliveries: know what local courier services are used by your shipper.

Personal experience with e-commerce deliveries

To be honest, there was a small hiccup with this latest transaction. The local courier, POS,  tried to deliver it last Friday, but could not access our gated building. POS then left without leaving any kind of notice that the parcel was available.

I only discovered the aborted delivery when I checked the Royal Mail tracking over the weekend. Thankfully, my package – a replacement camera – was returned to the local delivery depot where I was able to go fetch it.

This time, the cost for regular international delivery was $22. According to the tracking record, the package left the U.K. on August 4 and arrived here on Penang Island, Malaysia on August 11. Pretty reasonable. No customs or duty issues. The package was in good condition. The camera works fine; item as advertised. The POS staff apologized for the lack of an official notice of attempted delivery.

This online buy is just the latest experience; we had dozens in the Philippines. There, we got very comfortable with both Lazada (a subsidiary of Alibaba of China) and Shopee (a Singapore based online retailer).

All of those purchases and deliveries were trouble free except one item that was improperly measured and described – a refund was offered.

Lazada and Shopee e-commerce for slow travelers

One slight hassle with both Lazada and Shopee: they do not accept U.S. based credit cards or Western payment wallets like PayPal or Google Pay. But we could still make purchases in the apps using the C.O.D. payment feature. Yep, when the motorcycle delivery guy showed up, we handed over the cash in Philippine pesos and he gave us the goods. (And took a cell phone photo as proof of receipt.)

For the record, we found Shopee prices to be better – tho Lazada had more selection. Shipping was equal.

Another note: Shopee and Lazada accounts are specific to each nation. If you change countries, you must create a new account in that location. We have not used either app since leaving Philippines.

Tracking Shopee/Lazada purchases was easy. Items could be followed over the three to four days it took to get from Manila to our apartment doorstep near Boracay Island. Shipping standard size parcels from Manila usually cost $3 to $4 maximum.

Also while in the Philippines, we did use Amazon for two more costly purchases of specialized products, one from the U.S., one from the U.K. Those shipping charges were higher: $25 to $30, but the ‘AmazonGlobal’ service handled import duties/customs fees, and both deliveries were tracked and arrived and in perfect condition.

Many items fulfilled by Amazon are offered via AmazonGlobal. More than 100 countries qualify. Other Amazon Marketplace sellers vary. To determine what is eligible for AmazonGlobal, simply update your default address to your foreign location – then your Amazon search will show relevant products.

One tip for expat slow travelers on e-commerce deliveries: use the 'cash on delivery' payment when possible.

Our favorite e-commerce shipment as slow travelers

The most expensive – and exciting – shipment received in the Philippines was another eBay buy. The deep-water well pump we used to supply drinking water to the indigenous Ati tribal village was sent to our Philippine rental from the Chicago, Illinois area manufacturer.

That package was heavy, bulky, and worth around $200. It shipped across the globe during COVID for under $40. It was the only time I had any customs/import issue. Philippine Customs contacted me through the email address used for the purchase (an invoice was attached) and I had to verify the value of the pump. Seemed unnecessary, but no problem after that. The process added just an extra couple days to the shipping time.

And finally, two other times in Europe (Italy and Greece) we made purchases on eBay. In those cases, I purposely chose sellers within the EU to avoid any ‘international’ concerns and assure low cost delivery.

Both times, there were a few anxious moments regarding the final delivery to our temporary rental addresses, but each worked out fine and the items were received.

Obviously, every purchase, retailer, seller, shipper is different, as are the logistics involved. But after numerous experiences in different countries, I have little qualms about using e-commerce merchants all around the world. Thus far, I’ve never had any true bad experience.

E-commerce deliveries in vans and motorcycles with special trunks.

Tips for successful e-commerce deliveries

In closing, here are some tips for slow travelers on e-commerce deliveries:

  • Make sure you know and enter your foreign address properly and precisely. Ask a neighbor or landlord to help if you aren’t sure. Foreign addresses in ancient cities, rural areas, or remote islands can be tricky.
  • Some sellers will not ship to any address that is different than the ‘payment address’ on whatever payment method you use. Read all terms regarding payment and shipping carefully before buying.
  • Try to choose a seller located nearby or at least in the same country if possible. Shipping fees will be lower and any question about import duties is avoided.
  • I probably would not use international e-commerce sites and shipping for anything extremely valuable or time sensitive. Just for peace of mind, I would make those purchases in-person if possible.
  • AmazonGlobal is very reliable and reputable. You will pay higher fees – but the service is guaranteed and a comforting ‘last resort’ if other options are uncertain. Amazon Prime does not provide free international shipping.
  • E-commerce continues to evolve and change quickly. More companies, payment options, delivery modes, and other tech advances are certain. Keep apprised.

As always, be thankful and generous, happy trails & more beer.

Life is NOW!

Thanks for reading, “Tips for slow travelers on e-commerce.”

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