Monday, March 30, 2015

Cheaper than your local drugstore: Buying cosmetics and toiletries online, Part 1

Not long ago, I was standing in line at my local branch of a large Israeli pharmacy chain (which shall remain nameless, for reasons which you will soon understand), when I overheard a conversation between two men standing behind me, in new-oleh, American-accented English.

"Look at this!" One man said to the other, eyeing the small bottle of Listerine on the shelf next to him. "I could get a huge bottle for a third of the price in CVS. Everything is so much cheaper back in the old country..." he sighed. The other nodded wryly.

I can't say I disagree. Too much of our luggage space on our rare trips back from the old country is devoted to simple drugstore items that either can't be had here at all, or economy-size packages of items that are available, but very expensive and only obtainable in small packages. While I'm the last person to encourage brand loyalty and I actually find many local brands as good, if not superior, there are still some things I'd like to have without schlepping it here or worse, having someone else do the dirty work for me. If you have parents or siblings in the old country who will, more power to you. Not all of us do, though.

Luckily, there are a few stores which both offer a wide range of cosmetics, perfumes and/or toiletry items, and are willing to ship it to us here in Israel for a not-too-exorbitant fee. You'll have to wait anywhere between a week to a month until you get your package, so keep that in mind when ordering new stock. Keep in mind that if ordering over $75 of merchandise (not including shipping), you will be required to pay 18% VAT.

(Some links below are referrals).

The most cost-effective (in my opinion) website of this type is iherb.com . While they are primarily an online supplement and natural food store, they also have a wide range of cosmetics and toiletries, especially of the 'all-natural' type. I order both food and cosmetics from the site semi-regularly, and some of the new items I've sampled have become staples in my medicine cabinet and pantry, for example Mrs. Dash spice blends or this amazing retinol cream . Until recently you could order up to 4lbs. (1.81kg) for a uniform $4.00 shipping fee, however they now use a sliding scale which allows you to pay as little as $2.72 for light, small items, and more for heavier ones.
For a discount on your first order from the site ($5 on an order of less than $40, $10 if over that amount), either click on the banner to the right, or type DDH472 in the promo code rubric when checking out.

Another similar site, also located in the USA, is Vitacost.com. There is considerable overlap between this site's and iherb's merchandise, and it's worth comparing the prices of similar items on both sites before deciding where to buy. There are certain advantages and disadvantages to Vitacost as compared to iHerb:
  • Vitacost's minimal shipping rate is $10.99, for packages up to 3.6 lbs (1.63kg). Heavier packages will cost you double or even triple the rate. However, Vitacost calculates the weight of articles differently so the same exact item may weigh more in iHerb. Also, the price of any given item is often cheaper at Vitacost, so you may end up paying less overall. 
  • There are items Vitacost will not send to Israel. They claim this is due to Israeli import restrictions, but I find that hard to believe, as other sites will happily send you the same exact item from abroad. However, most items are available to us. 
  • Vitacost rarely mandates you purchase some items in multiples of 2,3 or 4, and they don't allow you to pick different flavors of the same item. This can hog your virtual shopping cart with items you don't really need and take you over the weight limit of your choice. Luckily, this isn't as common as it was until recently.
  • However, Vitacost contains far more 'conventional' brands than iHerb, such as over-the-counter medicines and cosmetics (e.g., Neutrogena, Advil etc.). 
  • Also, Vitacost has more cashback opportunities - 6% at Mr. Rebates, 4% at ebates , 7% at extrabux and a whopping 8% at Topcashback. Both iHerb and Vitacost participate in the Israeli cahback program (though you'll need to forward them a copy of the order confirmation email to receive it).
For a $10 coupon for your first Vitacost purchase of $30 and over, sign up through the banner at right or through this link. After signing up, press "Unlock Offer" for your coupon code that you can use within 30 days.

Another American website that has higher shipping rates, but a more conventional fare is Soap.com .  They don't state exact shipping rates, but they look like they start at $20.49, which is less than other alternatives. Like Vitacost, not all items can be shipped abroad. Soap.com also participates in cashback programs and has online coupons. I don't know that I'd order many items from there, but if you have a particular hankering for Ivory Soap (This comes out to about NIS10 a bar, factoring in shipping), or Camay, or perhaps Aim toothpaste - you won't have to wait until someone comes from the US.

In Part 2, we'll be looking at some more online shops across the world which don't extort too much (or at all) in shipping fees and deliver quality cosmetics and toiletries to your door.

No comments:

Post a Comment