Friday, April 03, 2009

Buying from the USA

How can Hendricks QRP Kits charge 15% of the kit price for shipping to DX locations (outside the US) while Elecraft charged me $41.10 for an order valued $109.95? This was the question I asked in my final posting to the Elecraft reflector, the one that generated so many complaints and emails of abuse that I quit the reflector and ceased doing anything else for the Elecraft "community".

One of the complaints was that such issues have no place on a "technical" reflector. Not true. The Elecraft reflector has never been solely for technical matters - the Elecraft principals themselves have stated that anything related to Elecraft products is a fair subject for discussion. More likely the offence was caused by the fact that the question was seen as yet another criticism of Elecraft. But it is still a fair question, and one of interest to anyone outside the USA, and in the UK particularly, who wishes to buy Elecraft products, since they can only be purchased direct from Elecraft.

One US ham who felt my question deserved a fair response was Bob Naumann, W5OV, who happens to have a lot of experience of sending products from the USA to Europe. He told me that the maximum charge for sending a 1lb package by USPS Priority Mail should have been $30.80, so Elecraft is adding quite a bit to the shipping cost it charges to customers. The amount they actually paid the USPS was $25.18, which Bob informed me is what the post office would charge without insurance, if they processed it online without taking the package to the post office.

Given that I was told the reason for using USPS Priority Mail in the first place is that cheaper methods don't provide adequate insurance, this seems a bit disingenuous. Perhaps Elecraft is bearing the risk itself. It is also entitled to charge for packaging and paperwork. Still, when the charges amount to 40% of the order cost it is enough to put you off ordering anything else from the USA, especially when the costs of collecting VAT, payable this side of the pond, are also taken into account.

I subsequently ordered a miniature morse key costing $79.95 from Morse Express. This package also has a shipping weight of 1lb. I was advised to use Express Mail International at a cost of $45.60 because the alternative Air Parcel Post at $39.80 was slower and not trackable. So in this case the shipping amounts to more than 50% of the order value.

I have just received the letter from ParcelForce in the UK demanding payment of the £11.80 VAT on this morse key. The clearance fee for this is £13.50 - more than the cost of the tax. In total I will have paid just over £113 for a product sold in the US for $80!

So how can Hendricks QRP Kits send kits to overseas customers and charge for shipping a mere 15% of the kit price? I'm still waiting for the answer to that, because the DC20B kit that I ordered from them in the middle of March has not been received yet. They certainly will not have used a trackable shipping method, so there is no way of finding out where it is. When it does arrive, I'm told there is a good chance that it will slip under the radar of the customs people so there will be no tax to pay, and no clearance fee either - two major savings, if I'm lucky.

It seems that hams in the UK wanting to buy radio products from companies in the US have two choices - pay high fees for express, trackable insured shipment that guarantees you'll have to pay VAT and a clearance fee as well which can more than double the total cost, or use cheap, uninsured, slow and untrackable surface post and run the risk that the product never arrives at all. I think it's time to give up buying direct from the US. It would make sense for companies such as Elecraft to start selling through a UK dealer.
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