Someone, on one of the blogs (I think it's Deja Pseu's always-enlightening "Une femme d'un certain age") mentioned that she shops mainly by online sites or catalogs.
I do that, too. It's easy, and fun when the parcel arrives. (You do have to pay for it, but the frisson of opening the box is no small pleasure.)
And access is a big part of the appeal. Even big-city shops carry only so much inventory; the recession has cut the offerings. (Shown, cashmere lace jumper by Brora in elderberry.)
Someone sent me an e-mail; she was distressed because her Eric Bompard sweater, ordered on sale, cost nearly 50% more due to customs duties and and taxes, shipping fees, and a delivery fee by Canada Post.
I replied sympathetically, but basically, that's the price of poker, and reflects several realities:
1. If you live outside the EU, you are not charged Value-Added Tax (VAT), currently 19.6%, but your government gets you on the other end, charging applicable taxes for importing the item.
When you indicate your country for delivery, if VAT does not apply, you will not be charged– but sometimes you have to watch the merchant. Liberty of London were going to charge VAT on my Diamond Jubilee scarf till I questioned them. They said, "We do offer a VAT refund but this is not automatically deducted by our website when ordering". In other words, your lookout.
2. Shipping (courier) fees for international deliveries are seldom waived by European sellers, unlike US vendors, who sometimes comp them even on Canadian orders. Because there is a minimum courier charge, you can pay 20€ shipping for pair of gloves that weigh nothing!
UPDATE: Bompard are waiving them this week, as a special promotion.
3. Finally, the Government of Canada charges about $10 for trotting your sweater to your door or holding it at a postal outlet till you pick it up. That's because they don't get any of that shipping fee you paid for your redcurrant Bolero, and they are incurring costs.
Now: maybe half the time, my UK or French orders come thorough with no duty. Karma? Thanks for Dad's wartime service? Who knows, and I'm not tracking down some bureaucrat to find out. If I knew how to ensure this occasional lucky strike, I'd tell you.
When I order from the US, I'm assessed duty without fail. (Nice try, but the North American Free Trade Act does not apply to goods manufactured outside the US, even if you ordered them from a US merchant.)
But my point (and thank you for hanging in through all this) is, when you buy an imported item locally, you are paying those same fees, but they are buried in the price, and you're also paying local sales tax.
You might also incur related expenses, e.g., parking, gas and that palette of Estée Lauder eyeshadow you bought in order to get the bag of free stuff that you probably don't need.
You can get a cheaper new sweater, say, at The Bay, but if comparing equal quality, you'll pay at least as much, and good luck getting the little card of matching wool for repairs or an extra button, niceties I have not seen from North American vendors since Christ was a cowboy.
The best online merchants offer an enticing range of styles, colours and sizes, and I've been very satisfied with their service.
If you want a black crew neck, stick close to home; you can find the basics within your borders.
But if you yearn for a retro stitch tunisien in bird song blue, save up, pay the freight and enjoy every snuggly moment. I usually wait for sales or promotions, with a bookmarked catalog and an eye on currency conversion. Discounts offset the bite of duties, taxes and shipping costs.
A return means you're entitled to a refund of tax and duty, but you have to do the work yourself. Complete a brief form (which in Canada is part of the customs form stuck to your box), attach the receipts and proof of return (such as your credit card statement showing the credited amount) and wait a few months to get a cheque. I go through the hassle, but my returns are rare.
Occasionally customs mistakenly assesses the wrong amount of duty; unless you are ordering regularly (guilty!) you might not know it is weirdly high, but if the duty is over about 33%, call and inquire. And if you buy on sale, make sure the merchant has entered the sale price, not the full price, on the customs form.
Some of the pieces I've bought from US and European merchants will soon be on my back for the twentieth-plus winter. That takes the chill out of the government's interest in our little luxuries. At least, that's how I'm rationalizing my order.