A year or so ago I wrote a lengthy evaluation post of the “from purchase to receipt” experiences I had with shopping online, specifically from luxury-focused e-commerce sites. These included both multi-brand stores and brands’ own online boutiques (Matchesfashion.com, MR PORTER, The Corner, Farfetch, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany & Co., Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Barneys New York). In more than half of these instances, I also returned items.
Since moving to Europe four months ago, I have done more online shopping, in part out of convenience since my schedule is so packed, and because like in North America, the product mix and availability of sizes and discounts varies between brick-and-mortar and online. Plus, free shipping is standard across most sites.
A domicile in Italy necessitates some additional considerations when receiving shipped parcels. If a package is from abroad, customs control has the ability to restrict or delay delivery, much at their arbitrary discretion. Official merchant senders mostly avoid this problem, but anything shipped without the proper customs forms risks getting stuck in the bureaucratic black hole that is the dogane.
Otherwise, the addressing of parcels is a little different too. Most apartment buildings have no unit numbers, so the name on the package has to match the name on the mailbox, and/or your portiere must know you by name. For students subletting from landlords, I recommend specifying “care of” (c/o) below your own name.
In most buildings, a portiere functions both as the building super and as the receiver. All the main couriers know to leave packages with the portiere, so it helps if you introduce yourself and stay in his or her good graces.
Amazon, despite its non-luxury focus, is actually the quickest shipper, especially if the products are coming from Amazon directly rather than a secondary vendor. Some Amazon orders come overnight if placed early enough in the day.
In my initial post, Yoox-run The Corner received an A+ score, for its rapid shipping and classy presentation, which includes a shopping bag within the box. 2015’s biggest fashion story was the merger between Yoox and Net-A-Porter, a casualty of which is The Corner, overshadowed by the new parent’s other star offspring: MR PORTER and Net-A-Porter. By end of this season, The Corner will be shuttered.
matchesfashion.com is still a robust presentation (inner and outer box with plenty of fluffy tissue wrapping), though standard shipping isn’t free in the EU (€10) and it takes about a week instead of the 2-day standard in the US.
MR PORTER lately has been a disappointment. Both orders from the British store arrived in a reasonably rapid time, however both were sloppily packaged and arrived crushed at the corners, far beyond the normal wear and tear of typical shipping. The contents were undamaged, but the presentation wasn’t anything special, and I have a pet peeve about clothing showing up wrinkled. I returned both items.
Both matches and MR PORTER use DHL pre-printed return instructions because they travel internationally. Each parcel has to be processed by DHL while you’re present. Since I am not home all day to meet DHL and I can’t ask my portiere to be, I walk to a DHL ‘service point’ (a tiny print-copy store nearby) with the unsealed box.
I understand the dilemma for international post, but there must be a better way to execute a return that doesn’t require a heavy, unwieldy walk through the high street.
Returns via UPS are achieved with a pre-printed return sticker label that I can affix to the parcel, which then leave to be retrieved with the portiere.
Farfetch excels in Italy, because so many of its boutiques are domestic, packages ship and arrive within two or three business days, via UPS, with easy return service. The only downside is an unceremonious presentation, which is more a reflection of the boutique rather than the aggregator (Farfetch is home to more than 300 independent boutiques across the world).
Overall, I aim for free shipping whenever possible, especially on high-margin products like €395 Saint Laurent sneakers. I also returned those, as (and this is coming up in my next post), Saint Laurent has great designs but the execution lacks a feeling of value for the money. Based on what I touch and see, I feel slighted that those sneakers were so expensive. And they aren’t even that expensive in the world of haute sneaks…
What else? I purchased a different pair of sneakers on sale from SaintLaurent.com and the package arrived rapidly, and was presented beautifully (another return, sorry SL!). I felt the same about the box I got from Gucci.com, which wasn’t the most rapid arrival, but its presentation was grand. I should have photographed before tearing into it! Kept those—they are Goodyear-welted spazzolato patent loafers!
Last week, on the site of my go-to wedding gift brand (Tiffany), I paid $20 for standard ground shipping (US site shipping within the US). I could have had free shipping if I spent over $150, which I’m sure many do with ease based on the average SKU price on the site. Fundamentally, though, this is at odds with the industry standard (which has moved toward a closer alignment of online and offline experiences), AND the brand image of Tiffany.
To ‘a la carte’ a customer buying a wedding gift from Tiffany, with so many less prestigious options at far lower price points, seems out of sync with the value proposition of going with the more expensive option that otherwise pleases both the sender and the receiver.
Overall I think online shopping is less seamless in Italy than it is in the States, and part of this is the tricky international shipping, and inexplicable speed (and lack of) with various shippers.
It could be that here, the market is less mature, and therefore merchants see no reason to offer free shipping or make it easier for consumers. I am probably the only person in my building who gets several packages each week.
I will never abandon the practice though, because to me it is more luxuriously relaxing than getting dressed to go into town, dealing with crowds and strange store climates, some less-than-friendly salespersons, and the inability to browse easily and efficiently.