11.21.2013

Adventure of online shopping at Selfridges.com.

Disclaimer: This cautionary tale is not meant to blame any party involved in the process. I share my experience solely to help others out there who might be in the same situation/contemplating to place an order. All personal information/identifier of anyone involved has been removed to further present this situation in the most objective way possible.
Update Friday, November 22nd: received an email from Selfridges.com customer service, which is very courteous and considerate of them, offering an EVoucher for all the trouble below. I thought this is a very nice gesture indeed.

Once out of a blue moon, I decided to embark on a shopping adventure at Selfridges.com. I totally get the lure of instant access to many cosmetic brands that are not available in the U.S. But to be completely honest, I did this just because. Yes, I know. I've always been prudent of my purchases and I have family members who travel to London quite frequently for business. So, I really have no immediate need to shop other than to try out this service. What harm could it do, right?

Or so the tale began...

Monday, November 11th
I purchased makeup items from Selfridges online (a Suqqu brush and some Charlotte Tilbury). It went smoothly. The site accepted my U.S. issued credit card just fine and to my amazement, the items were dispatched the very next day: kudos to Selfridges lightning-speed service!! 

Thursday, November 14th
The real adventure began when I received a phone call and an email from DHL, stating that my package was stuck in U.S. Customs. The agent needed me to provide the following information:

A .pdf attachment from DHL

I thought, wait a minute.. I read Selfridges' FAQ carefully (under "What happens if my order gets stuck in customs?") before placing this order, and it states, "Selfridges and our delivery partner aim to handle all customs documentation and formalities, including payment of any applicable tax and duties on your behalf."

Since I have no access to any of these products beforehand, I couldn't supply the necessary document that contains Statement of Intended Use, Company Name and Address, Product Labeling, List of Ingredients. Also, why do they need my Social Security Number? Right away, I emailed Selfridges' customer service (intending to follow up with a trans-Atlantic phone call on Monday), and explained my situation. 

However, that night I decided to take matters in my own hands. I searched the web and found a post from Temptalia here. Christine was so helpful by telling me the info she sent to the DHL in order to clear her items from U.S. Customs (scroll down toward the end of the post and to the comment section).

Here's what I sent to DHL. For each item, I researched the following:
  • Statement of Intended Use
    FDA made a distinction between food, drug, and cosmetics and each one of them has its own definition by law. My feeling/thought was, after reading a bit about the distinctions made by FDA, that the Customs office needs to know whether this product is cosmetics, or drugs, or food, and whether or not this is for commercial or personal use. So, I wrote, "Blush/Lipstick/Eye Pencil/(whatever your item is) - Cosmetics, for personal use, not for resale/distribution." -- Christine echoed this idea.
  • Detailed Description
    I tracked down the descriptions from either Selfridges.com, Suqqu, or  Charlotte Tilbury's website. E.g. "Suqqu's Frame Fix cream foundation is a rich and light cream foundation that does..."
  • Manufacturer, Company Name/Address
    Most likely you'll find this info on the actual packaging/box of products, but you can also find this online. In the case of Suqqu, I couldn't find their corporate office, but I could find from their Japanese website, the distribution center's address and I gave that.
  • Product Labeling
    This is a tricky one. According to FDA, product labeling is any kind of marking/labeling on the packaging of the product itself. How on Earth am I going to get this info, without seeing the actual packaging in front of me? Thankfully, CT's website is quite liberal with the description of the products, so I sent them the screen shot of each one of them (again, thanks to Christine for this tip). For the Suqqu item, I went to Suqqu's UK website and again, copy down screenshot of the product description.
  • List of Ingredients
    This one is the easiest, thanks to CT's website. However, you may be out of luck if you ordered Suqqu cosmetic items instead, because I couldn't find any online, either from the Japan nor UK website.
I typed all of the above nicely, organized all the screenshots, saved them in one pdf file and emailed it to DHL. I also asked them to call me personally for my SSN. Noone should ever send SSN via unencrypted means.

Friday, November 15th
Eight AM sharp, PST, I received a phone call from a DHL agent in LA. He was courteous and polite, despite my annoyed tone yesterday. I asked him why I needed to supply this information when Selfridges claimed to have taken care of "all customs documentation and formalities," as stated on the above FAQ. I was also particularly curious about the requirement of SSN. The agent kindly explained in great detail about the U.S. Customs process (which I won't belabored and have succinctly put above). In the event that DHL needs any of the above information to clear Customs, DHL will contact either exporter (i.e. Selfridges), or importer (i.e. moi, consumer, buyer). He also mentioned that U.S. Customs needs SSN for tax identification purpose. If you have an alternate tax identification number (TIN), you can supply that instead of your SSN. I thanked him for his explanation and courtesy and he assured me he'd inform me every step of the way. Then he said, "Oh, by the way, you are not the only one. I've got three other packages all from Selfridges with the same problem." 

Ten AM. The agent called me again and said he has pushed through my package to the U.S. Customs for clearance. He mentioned that it takes 24-72 hours for the approval and that he had no control over the package once it is in the custody of U.S. Customs. Fingers crossed. 

Still no reply from Selfridges.com customer service.

Saturday, November 16th
I checked DHL's tracking update, I cannot believe my eyes. It says "Processing Complete." Do these people really work on Saturdays?


Sunday, November 17th
A haze due to too much cake eaten at a Birthday party.

Monday, November 18th
Package arrived at my front door shortly before noon. DHL will ask for signature upon delivery. If you are unable to be home, like I did, leave them a piece of paper saying "I hereby authorized DHL to deliver my package. Please leave the package at (my front porch next to the dog kennel). Sign and date."

... and received a reply from Selfridges.com customer service:

Tuesday, November 19th
Received another email from Selfridges.com listing ingredients of each product, but only for CT's not Suqqu's. Replied back to customer service explaining my situation, thanking them for their effort.

Final thoughts:
  • Providing information and the customs delay were a slight annoyance. I got my package in exactly a week, really record time cross-Atlantic! However, I do think that my situation could have been much worse had I bought the "wrong" type of products (aka Suqqu cosmetics, for e.g. where I couldn't find the ingredient list).
  • Selfridges: speedy delivery, courteous customer service, but didn't provide complete customs documentation.
    Granted, international delivery is a new service from Selfridges and I'm sure they will smooth out the process in the future. But, I am glad I didn't wait around for the email reply from the customer service to help speed along the clearance process at Customs. Selfridges have 14 days return policy. What's going to happen if my package is stuck in Customs beyond that 14 days because I'm still waiting for their replies? 
  • DHL: great service, I thought the agent was very professional. He really didn't have to push through my package on a Friday, he could have just waited for the weekend, but he did, and my package was processed pronto. It's easy to blame the carrier when things go wrong with your delivery but remember, they are just that, a carrier.
  • Packaging issue: a separate problem. There were a mere single tissue paper wrapped in around each box of products without any padding in between. The boxes of products were practically swimming in the bigger box that contained them. The only fragile item in my order was a blush, it looked a bit knocked about (pink dusts all over the place) but nothing that warrant replacement/reimbursement. I considered myself lucky.
Why is my picture upside down?

I hope my experience helps anyone out there. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave me a comment.

10 comments:

  1. wow. that's intense. thanks for sharing!

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  2. Hi Claire,
    well, this sounds very... complicated.
    Since I am located in Europe, for me clearance from customs is not an issue but still do I have issues with packaging. I was also very frustrated in the way they packed things. At least you got the big yellow box. Mine was inside some kind of other packaging which I don't recall at the moment.

    Back to customs, I was wondering, did you have to pay extra for the taxes?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Sara: no, I didn't have to pay extra tax/duties. Just lacking documentations. I hope your shipment came intact and yes, they need to improve on the packaging.

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  3. You went through an ordeal, but you were armed with how to go about getting clearance! Smarty pants, you!
    There was a lot of dialogue on this issue on makeupalley recently and I thought this link that one of the posters provided to be handy:
    https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/314/~/importers---social-security-number-%25252F-tax-identification-number-%25252F-irs-number-%25252F
    A formal entry is required for goods coming in valued at $2500 or over (which I know your order was not!) and requires a SS#/Tax ID number. For our little orders, it appears DHL is requiring SS# because it allows them to electronically file for clearance and the electronic filing requires an ID# (so in our case the SS#) and can be cleared more expediently.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep, that's it. For DHL's convenience of electronic filing, SSN/TIN is required. I just didn't put this above, too much info, but this is really the bottom line. The agent I spoke to said that they rarely file anymore paper copy so all DHL shipment, big/small, practically needs SSN/TIN.
      Also, once your SSN/TIN is in DHL's system, you won't be asked the same thing for future shipment, any shipment at all, through DHL.
      Thanks for the info & the link!!

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  4. Oh, geez. That's a lot of work. IDK if it's worth all that hassle for me. Thank you so much for sharing your experience…extremely helpful!!! Have you played with your goodies yet?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Gummy, definitely not worth the hassle until Selfridges fix it all up, which I'm sure will be soon (since my experience is not an isolated incidence -- check out Temptalia + Belly's heads up above). Goodies-wise, I've tried it, really love what I got, thanks to the many reviews on the blog.

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    2. Clair, do you still keep the proforma invoice from selfridges when you order this ?
      Recently, I ordered few suqqu brushes on selfridges. Paid £36 for shipping&admission fee
      Package got stuck at custom. Fortunately I found your blog and your guideline was extremely helpful.
      I finally received the package and about 10 days later, a DHL custom duty invoice mailed home.
      >=[ *sighs they charged me the total of $65.01 . That's including Import/Export duties, Payment Deferment, Obtaining permits&License. I don't understand why I have to pay for this I thought Selfridges says there will no additional charges.
      So I did research and if on the proforma invoice , under term of trade has DDP ( delivered duty paid )
      On my term of trade has DAP ( delivered at place )
      I wonder what you have under term of trade so I can contact selfridges and have them pay for this

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    3. Hi Roxy,
      Thanks for stopping by. Assuming you live in the U.S., please read on.
      No, I did not receive any proforma invoice from Selfridges with my shipment. It does not sound like what Selfridges would do anyway, as I researched a bit about it, proforma invoice is an estimate of actual invoice that is sent from seller to buyer BEFORE the seller send the goods to buyer. If I am mistaken, please pardon.
      I would suggest contacting Selfridges directly with your questions & paperwork. They are a bit slow, but their customer service will respond.
      I would also suggest contacting DHL. Just remember, they are in-between, delivery guy, so they do not really have any authority to waive duties/taxes, etc. They may not be much help but if you are nice, you will be filled in with what's missing, which in turn you can ask from Selfridges. It is really Selfridges who has to sort out all the necessary documentations and duties.
      Let us know how it goes so we can help others who may have the same problem. I am so sorry this happen to you but hopefully everything will be sorted out soon!

      Claire

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