Beware Hidden Shipping Charges

I have a thing for Chinese pierced porcelain; not expensive antiquities, of course — I could never afford them — but charming, mid-20th century stuff in the manner of the pieces above. I found the first two (the taller vase and the lidded jar) in Savannah, GA for around $250 for the pair. The third was a lucky strike at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Antiques Market for about $40 and I’ve narrowly missed out on a couple of others. I can’t quite say what the allure is for me but I’m bewitched by the mix of the lattice pattern with the cherry blossom branches.

You can imagine my reaction when I happened upon the image below from the U.S. vintage dealer, Ideal Surroundings. Don’t ask me how or why I ended up on their site, I have absolutely no idea — probably doing a Google image search for one thing or another. The point is, once I saw that lamp I had to have it. The dealer, a woman named Michelle, informed me that it was $150 USD, sans shade. I asked her to price the packing and shipping and she came back with a figure of $41. Now, there’s no question that I did not need this lamp but when you collect something that’s hard to find and suddenly stumble upon a piece, reason is the first casualty. At least it was for me in this case.

I agreed to the purchase and placed the order, which duly arrived via UPS about a week later. Unfortunately, the delivery came with a $63.33 UPS brokerage fee, payable upon delivery. All told, I was now paying more than $100 to ship a $150 item. Lamp or no lamp, I wasn’t feeling very bright. I knew I could refuse the delivery and have the charge reversed on my credit card but then the dealer would have been dinged for the entire UPS charge, $100 bucks and no sale. I didn’t have the heart to do that to her so I paid the bill.

In our subsequent communication Michelle stated she had no knowledge of additional costs over and above the agreed upon $41. In the future, when placing an order like this from a foreign vendor I would ask the dealer to get explicit details from the shipping company about any further brokerage fees, duties or taxes required; this is their business and they should know the answers to the questions. If I had had that conversation with the dealer and then found myself on the hook for extra fees I likely would have sent the piece back. I admit my enjoyment of the lamp has been tainted a little by the experience; had I known it would cost me $250 I would have taken a pass. Caveat emptor.

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Monday, August 29, 2011 by Chris
This post was written by - who has written 865 posts on styleNorth.

12 Comments For This Post

  1. Sandra Says:

    UPS is the worst shipper to chose when sending packages from the states. Their brokerage fees are exorbitant. The good old United States Postal Service is the least expensive. But the lamp is pretty, so all you can do is live and learn and enjoy it.

  2. Gus Says:

    Never use UPS, especially for eBay stuff. The other thing to watch is taxes. I’m not sure what the cutoff amount is but it’s around $150 – less than this and there shouldn’t be any taxes, over this and Canadian taxes are payable at the discretion of the customs handlers at the border. Always use USPS when you can because there are no broker fess and often enough there will be no taxes added. An option for big stuff, like furniture if you are brave enough to buy it in the States, is to have it shipped Greyhound to Buffalo – a pain to make the run to pick it up, but hundreds of dollars in savings over any courier, and sometimes the border will waive you through so you might avoid taxes. I’ve found postal shipping from Great Britain to also be pretty painless, for the odd eBay buy.

  3. Sarah - { rad: renovations are dirty } Says:

    That’s too bad you got so screwed over. :( I’ve heard horror stories about UPS charging exorbitant fees, so I’ve never used them when shipping to Canada. I always use USPS.

  4. rouquinne Says:

    And some places charge exorbitant postage shipping rates anyway.

    Last year, I bought a pair of boots from an online retailer and the shipping to Canada was $14US, same as to ship within the US.

    Last month, Simplicity reintroduced a pattern that was long discontinued and I was outraged to discover that they charge $16.50 to send a single sewing pattern to Canada. For $5, I had it diverted to a friend in Texas, who put less than $5US in postage on it to send it on to me.


  5. Deb Says:

    Hi Chris,
    By the time I got halfway through the post I knew where it was going. Gee sure wish I could have told you about the brokerage fees! I found out the hard way a few years back myself.

    The issue is that anything shipping from the US valued over the $20 Cdn tax exemption incurs taxes and, if shipped by mail, a fee of $5.00 by Canada Post to clear the package. If shipped by courier, all courier companies charge a ‘brokerage fee’ which basically they say is to ‘clear’ the package through customs. I believe UPS fees start at $40 Cdn and then the government taxes are added over and above that.

    It’s unfortunate the retailer was not aware of the brokerage border fees charged by courier company. Many a buyer has been taken unaware with these fees and I suspect the couriers don’t widely advertise for that reason. Your package is basically held hostage and most people are reluctant to refuse their package once it’s at the door. :)

    Well I hope at least the lamp was as nice as you’d hoped it would be. You’ve got a nice addition to your collection – enjoy it! ~d.

  6. Alison Says:

    Just saw this post Chris. Everyone beat me to it! I was going to say pretty much the same things as prev. posts. USPS is great from my experience, I have probably had close to 200 things mailed to me in the past couple of years and think I’ve only had to pay extra duty or fees once, maybe twice. (Some rather expensive things, too.)

    If you purchase from Ebay, or use Paypal to pay for things, many sellers will not ship 1st class anymore though, so be aware. Paypal’s purchase protection policy will only reimburse for items that are no-shows if shipped Priority or Express (signed-for delivery). Costs a bit more for sure. Some sellers will still send 1st class if the item isn’t too expensive or heavy, but they can get in trouble for it… Paypal ‘spot checks’ items, even if a claim has NEVER been filed!

    I made the mistake of buying a rug from NY, once. Didn’t pay enough attn. and it was shipped UPS. What a nightmare! They are such gougers. I called and bitched and they refunded me half of the sixty whatever fees back (think the rug was only 50 bucks). And, to add insult to injury, the people sent me the wrong damn rug, UGHH. Just ‘ate it’, and lesson learned.

    Fed Ex policies are pretty much the same as UPS as far as I know.

    So, yes, be very careful to clarify how your item will be shipped before you buy it :)

  7. winkeljuffrouw Says:

    I agree with the other commenters, UPS/Fedex are to be avoided with international shipping. The inflate the costs of customs brokerage unnecessarily by adding charges like “document prep fee” that have nothing to do with what the government actually charges for duty. It is purely a profit centre for them.

    Using the postal system will help avoid this and anyone shopping online across the border will learn this, but unfortunately sometimes it is learned the hard, and expensive way.

    But please do not blame the vendor of this item for this surprise extra cost. It is not possible for them to know what the fees will be as they are charged after the fact by UPS and they never see those charges. Even if they were to inquire in advance with UPS they would not be given accurate information and would not be able to give you an accurate amount for this charge. The only thing the vendor can control is who they use for shipping. If they do not offer the postal service as an option then you can be certain of extra surprise charges upon delivery.

  8. Lois Says:

    Good evening, I sell on eBay and was flabbergasted when a customer called me irate at being charged extra fees by FedEx. No amount of calling, either by myself or them would budge those fees. Ended up we split them…Loisoflessonlearnedthehardway

  9. Alison Says:

    Hi Winkle… yes I agree with you and others that it is not the sellers ‘fault’. Technically. However, based on a couple of experiences I have had in the past, many vendors are VERY well aware (from negative feedback/comments made to them by int’l buyers) that UPS or FedEx charge these extra and exhorbitant ‘fees’. Yet some persist in only shipping that way, and will often refuse to send USPS at all. Their descriptions of how UPS or FedEx ‘works’ and is charged is disingenuous at best… fraudulent at worst. And they always have (use) the ‘out’ when the buyer is shocked, ‘we didn’t know… it’s the govt’s fault!?!’ Baloney.

    I have no idea why sellers do this, but it is very fishy indeed. I will not deal with any vendor who will not ship any other way than UPS. I don’t know if they are getting some kind of a ‘kickback’ or ship disc. for exclusive use or something, but some info I have rec’d after asking why USPS is out of the question, was downright bizarre!

    As Chris said, Caveat Emptor, and take the time to ask all the right questions. It can save you a lot of aggro!

    P.S. Hi Lois… why did you send item FedEx and not Can Post? At least now you know, so hopefully you can let your customers know the extra fees that will be incurred with that method, if you must use their services :) Cheers.

  10. winkeljuffrouw Says:

    Hi Allison,
    Yes, you are completely right, only offering UPS/FedEx is tantamount to saying “we don’t care about our international customers” and some US retailers simply don’t care about people outside their own borders. It’s frustrating but that sadly it is their prerogative. Like you said, with any purchase we make in this world absolutely Caveat Emptor applies. If the vendor won’t offer USPS as an option then we may have to reconsider making a purchase from that company at all.

    It’s not very likely that any of that customs fee money goes back into their pockets. It could be as simple as going to the post office is a hassle for them vs. the courier companies companies coming to their door to make pick ups. Impossible to know. Every situation is different. But, as Canadians we represent a very small portion of their customer base so it’s crystal clear that some companies just don’t find us worth caring about. Is that the right attitude for them to take towards us? No, of course not, it’s a crappy attitude but that’s just the way it is sometimes. Hopefully that will change.

    Thanks for bringing up this topic though. As more Canadians being to shop online it is important for them to know the pitfalls and how to avoid them. And it is important for us to also inform US online retailers about this situation as some of them simply may not know.

    :) WJ

  11. Tim Says:

    Same for me! Bought something not expensive but ups asked for $50 brokerage fee and then of course custom wanted a piece of the pie as well!

    Great tips from all of you. Will use USPS next time!

  12. chairtablelamp Says:

    Just in a great lamp not unlike yours with a bigger price tag.

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