Online Shopping 101 – How, What, When? {Part 1}

Online Shopping

Online shopping for South Africans…this blog post has been a long time coming!  And I’m so glad I am loading it for you guys today because the majority of emails I receive every day from Pink Peonies blog readers or someone who stumbled upon my blog by chance, are questions about online shopping.  Whether it’s online shopping in South Africa or international online shopping – I get a lot, a lot, a lot of emails.

I’m sitting here right now and thinking about everything I want to say – the things you need to look out for when ordering online, what the average waiting period is, how Paypal works, who my favourite online shopping sites are…and I’m kind of hyperventilating now because there is SO much to cover in this one tiny blog post.  Excuse me while I go grab a brown paper bag…

So here’s what I’m thinking, how about I cover all the nitty gritty details of online shopping in this blog post and in my next blog post, I will cover all my favourite online shops (both South African and worldwide)?  I really don’t want you to open up this blog post, see the massive amount of content in it and faint, so I think 2 blog posts will be best?

Online shopping used to be an urban legend in South Africa a couple of years ago.  I remember when I first started purchasing items online, my friends and family were flabbergasted because they thought my bank account would be drained by internet gremlins or I would just never receive my parcels.  My very first online purchase was on eBay, so I guess in a way I just jumped right into the deepend.  I have shed many tears, and I have stomped many feet (well, only 2 actually) thanks to missing parcels and / or sellers not taking responsibility for lost / stolen goods.  BUT.  I have also had many, maaaaany happy days filled with special makeup products that are not available in South Africa.

The good outweighs the bad, by a mile.

Let’s get started!

You will need the following to place an order online:  Credit card.  Delivery address.  Patience.


Online security is a major concern, I know, and that’s why I suggest registering your credit card for a PayPal account, which protects your credit card information from individual sites.  Wherever possible, I always try to use my PayPal account to pay for international orders online (most websites accept PayPal, but you may come across the odd site that does not).  The other benefit of using PayPal is that you can take advantage of their dispute resolution tool to resolve issues with your transactions.  The Resolution Center will help you track, manage, and resolve it as quickly as possible – this means you can either request the seller to resend your parcel (should it be lost or stolen) or you can request a refund.  To read more on Paypal safety and security, click here.

Opening a PayPal account is free, plus they do not charge you as a buyer for any transactions (they make their money charging sellers).

Unfortunately anyone can set up an internet website these days, so if you are unfamiliar with a particular company, a good way to check them out is to find out if they have a telephone number (and physical address) you can call to get more information about them.  Ask your friends, family or someone you know is constantly purchasing products online, if they are familiar with the company and ask for their feedback.


The first thing I do whenever I discover a new online shop, is check whether they ship to South Africa.  If it’s a South African-based online store, then obviously you wouldn’t need to check.  There have been many occasions where I have looked through all the wonderful products a website has to offer, only to find out they don’t ship to South Africa – major bummer!  I usually go add a random product to my online basket, then go to ‘check out’ and will then see under the shipping locations drop-down whether they ship to South Africa.  Usually when a website indicates on their home page that they ship worldwide, like Look Fantastic or Beauty Bay, they ship to South Africa but it’s always best to check first.

The UK Royal Mail recently updated their policies on restricted and prohibited goods (products that are not allowed to be shipped overseas due to health & safety reasons), this includes flammable items such as nail polishes, perfumes and nail polish removers, as well as aerosols such as hair spray, deodorant, shaving creams etc.  This means if you are placing an order on a UK-based online store, you probably won’t be able to check out these types of products.

In terms of how long it takes for a parcel to arrive in South Africa, it’s difficult to say for sure because there are so many variables.  Are our lovely post office employees on strike?  Where is the parcel coming from?  Did you opt for expedited shipping?  Usually a parcel that is sent from the UK or US, will take between 4 weeks and 6 weeks to arrive.  I have, on the odd occasion, been lucky and have received parcels sent from these countries within 2 weeks.  Parcels from Hong Kong or China usually take between 2 weeks and 4 weeks to arrive.

SAPO (South African Post Office)

Whenever I hear SAPO is on strike, I accept that most of my parcels that are currently in transit will not be delivered.  Ever.  Based on my past experiences, whenever the post office employees are on strike, I don’t receive parcel slips (not even after 4 or 5 or 6 weeks).  I have a theory about what happens to all the parcels that pile up during the strike, but won’t mention it here as it will turn this blog post into a rant (and we don’t want that).

This is a very important point to note:  The tracking number you receive from an international seller (whether it’s eBay, Etsy or any other website) is not the local tracking number that ends with a ‘ZA’.  Once that parcel arrives in South Africa, a new tracking number is allocated to the parcel and the old one is no longer valid.  There are 2 websites you can log on to, in order to track your international parcel – Global Track & Trace or Parcel Track.  If you have your local tracking number, and would like to know where you parcel is situated – you can SMS the local tracking number (i.e. PE792543163ZA) to 35277 and you will receive an SMS telling you whether the parcel is in transit or if it is waiting for you at your nearest post office (it will give you the name of the post office).

When your parcel arrives in South Africa, 1 of 3 things can happen.  1. Your parcel is delivered straight to your post box,  because it is small enough to fit into your box & there are no duties / taxes due.  2. Your parcel is waiting for your at your nearest post office and you have received a parcel slip.  The parcel slip will either indicate an amount you need to pay before the post office will hand it over to you, this is where duties / taxes come in to play; or will indicate no amount due, this means the parcel is physically too big to fit into your post box and you need to go fetch it at the post office.  And 3. Your parcel has been detained at the customs and you need to provide them with an invoice.  I have never had this happen to me before, but Bronwyn kindly explained this process to me.  Apparently if a seller does not specify the value of the parcel or they didn’t include an invoice, customs will hold your parcel until you have provided them with the invoice.  You will receive a notification in the mail telling you to either fax a copy of the invoice or deliver a hard copy of the invoice to customs.  You also need to give instructions to post the parcel on to you.  Once you have provided customs with the invoice (and instructions), they might open up the parcel to check whether the contents is correct (none of my parcels have ever been opened) and if they are happy, they will send the parcel on to your nearest post office (or you can take it with you if you hand-delivered the invoice).

As mentioned, once you receive your parcel slip, this means your parcel has arrived at your local post office & you can go pick it up.  You need to take your original ID or driver’s license with you to collect your parcel, and my post office only takes cash (so rather make sure you have cash on you).  The parcel slip will indicate an amount you need to pay (if there are duties / customs due).

If a parcel is marked as a gift, then one shouldn’t pay any duties or customs BUT I have been charged in the past.  When I asked the lady behind the counter at the post office why I was being charged if it’s a gift, she said:  “Do you want to take the parcel, or not?  If you have an issue with this, then you can contact Head Office.”  No jokes!  You can pick your jaw up off the floor now…

I can’t tell you exactly how the customs / duty charges are calculated because from what I’ve seen with my own parcels, as well as friends / family parcels, the calcs are never the same.  Not that the actual calculation is indicated on the parcel slip, but sometimes I pay R 20,00 for a R 500,00 order and other times I pay R 50,00 for a R 500,00 order.  I have even paid R 350,00 once for a R 500,00 order!  I wish I could help you more with this specific topic, but unfortunately I can’t.


When it comes to eBay sellers, I only ever buy from ‘Top Rated Sellers’ – these are sellers who provide valid tracking information within a certain handling time period, who have a maximum 2% of transactions with one or more defects over a specific evaluation period, who have a 14-day (or longer) money back return policy & who receive positive feedback on 98% of transactions.

Signing up for an eBay account is free and eBay accepts PayPal (mentioned above), so you are covered in every way.  eBay also has their own dispute resolution service, where you can open a case should your parcel not arrive or the item doesn’t match the seller’s description.  As mentioned I only buy products from an eBay seller who is rated as a ‘Top Rated Seller’, this is indicated by a badge next to the name of the seller.

I buy a lot of products on eBay, usually makeup products or beauty tools but have also bought Pop Tarts, Lucky Charms cereal, iPhone / iPad covers, craft supplies and watches in the past.  When I can’t find something in South Africa, I pop onto eBay and can usually find what I’m looking for on there.

Be careful of fake products on eBay, especially when it comes to brands such as Urban Decay, Clarisonic, Benefit Cosmetics & MAC.  Sellers only sell if they are going to make a profit, so ask yourself:  How is this eBay seller making money by selling a MAC lipstick for $4 (+- R 45,00)?   If you are not sure whether a product is fake, take a look at the seller’s feedback & see if anyone mentioned anything about receiving counterfeit goods.  If a buyer (even just one buyer) mentions anything about a fake, back away slowly.  And if you ever receive a fake product from an eBay seller, make sure to leave negative feedback to warn future buyers.  If there’s a NARS blush selling on eBay for R 60,00 or a MAC eyeshadow for R50,00 then repeat after me:  If something is too good to be true, it probably is…

I’m not saying stay away from paying less for products online, that’s the whole point of shopping on eBay (that, and having access to products that are not sold in SA).  Paying R 50,00 for an Essie nail polish is perfectly fine, but paying R 20,00 sounds a bit dodgy.  I usually pay around R 40,00 (plus R 30,00 shipping or less) for an Essie nail polish on eBay.

This is what a listing on eBay looks like (click on the image to enlarge):

eBay Listing

I’ll go into a bit more detail on what you need to look out for on a listing below (click on the images to enlarge):

eBay Seller

1.  When you open up a listing (once you have searched for a specific item on eBay), you will see an amount the seller charges for shipping.  If the seller does not ship to South Africa, then it will say: ” May not ship to South Africa – read item description or contact seller for shipping options.”  You can always try to ask the seller if they’d be willing to ship to SA, but my experience has always been that if it says “May not ship to South Africa”, then they probably won’t.

2.  The seller’s name is indicated on the right-hand side of the listing, plus you can also see their feedback rating.

3.  You can see whether a seller is a Top Rated seller on the right-hand side of the listing as well.  If the seller has a badge next to their name, then it’s one of the best sellers to purchase from.

eBay Seller Shipping

4.  If you are not sure whether the seller ships to South Africa, click on the ‘Shipping & Payments’ tab a bit further down in the listing and make sure ‘South Africa’ is selected in the drop-down.

5.  The shipping & handling fee is indicated on this tab as well, and the sellers will also let you know whether they offer combined shipping.  This means that if you buy more than one product from the same seller, they will offer you a discounted shipping rate per each additional product.  I always look out for this because it means you will pay less shipping buying from one seller, than buying from a few different sellers.  If there is something else you might want to purchase, perhaps an additional Essie nail polish shade or a Maybelline mascara, click on the seller’s name (i.e. BeautyZone2007) and go check out what else they sell.

How to search for a specific product on eBay (click on image to enlarge):

eBay Searching

6.  You can search for whatever you are looking for by typing the name of the product into the search tab and clicking on ‘Search’.

7.  Make sure you sort by ‘Price + Shipping: Lowest first’, this will ensure you see the most affordable items at the top of your list.

8.  If you have a budget, you can tell eBay you only want to see items listed with a price of between for example R 100,00 and R 200,00 (this excludes shipping).

9.  eBay will usually display the items that are available for both immediate purchase (Buy It Now) and bidding (Auction).  I have bid on certain items in the past, but I find it to be time-consuming and stressful.  So I usually also filter my searches by ‘Buy It Now’, that means everything you see, will be available for immediate purchase.  Remember, when you click on that ‘Buy It Now’ blue button on the actual listing, you need to be sure that you want it and you are able to pay for it (otherwise the seller can open up a case against YOU).

10.  The shipping price will be indicated within the search results as well, which makes it super easy and user-friendly for us since we can now see what the price of the product is (in SA Rands), as well as the shipping price without having to click on each listing.

eBay Purchase History

11.  If a parcel of yours does not arrive within 45 days, contact the seller and let them know (you can do this by clicking on the ‘Purchase History’ tab on your eBay profile).  They are usually very helpful and will offer to either resend the parcel or refund you.  Some may also ask you to wait for a week or 2 longer, just to see if the parcel does arrive.

12.  If the seller is not helpful, you can open up a case within 45 days after your purchase date.  You will not be able to open a case after 45 days, so try contacting the seller on day 40 (that’s what I do) and if you haven’t heard from them by day 42, tell them you will be opening a case the next day.  The case can remain open for 20 days, whilst you and the seller try to resolve the issue (whether it’s a lost parcel or you received the wrong item or the item is broken etc).  If you and the seller are not able to come to an agreement, you can escalate it and ask eBay to rule on your case.  Once you have opened a case, your case will be visible under your ‘Resolution Center’.

13.  Remember to leave feedback on your transaction, this really helps the seller out (especially if it’s positive feedback).  As mentioned above, if you received a counterfeit product or the seller was really unhelpful, then leave negative feedback and warn potential buyers (but don’t be mean about it).


I have never purchased anything on Amazon, as I have found eBay usually has way more products and sellers to choose from.


Etsy is the handmade version of eBay, by this I mean that Etsy sellers mostly sell handmade products.  The same ‘rules’ apply for Etsy i.e. check if they ship to SA, leave feedback on your transaction, pay using PayPal etc.

One thing you need to be weary of when it comes to Etsy, is whether the seller accepts responsibility for lost parcels.  Because these sellers are mostly individuals (a person, and not a company), a lot of the time they will not accept responsibility if your parcel is lost or stolen.  I learned this the hard way and lost out on a good amount of money when I placed a large order with a certain seller, and their shop policy said they don’t accept responsibility for lost or stolen parcels.  Now, I always check Etsy sellers’ shop policies before I even contemplate ordering anything from them.

Etsy is an AMAZING website to find cute & quirky items, so don’t let my one little experience put you off.

I don’t think I have forgotten anything…but if I do think of anything else I want to add, I’ll add it and will then let you guys know on Facebook and Twitter.  Tomorrow’s blog post will be shorter than this one (thank goodness, as I have little stubs for fingers after all this typing) and will feature all my favourite eBay sellers and online shopping websites (local and international).

If you have any questions regarding online shopping, please ask me in the comments section below.  I am happy to help in any way I can!



    • 3 September 2014 / 08:53

      Pleasure, Steph! 🙂

  1. Geraldine
    1 September 2014 / 22:26

    Thank you so much for this detailed post, Luzanne. I for one know this blog post has helped me alot, I never knew about half of the things you mentioned. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • 3 September 2014 / 08:58

      So glad this blog post helped you out, Geraldine. It’s a HUGE pleasure!

  2. Lauren Henderson
    1 September 2014 / 22:30

    I’m not from south africa but have found this blog post to be super duper helpful, especially the sections about ebay. I am looking forward to your Part 2 blog post.

    Lauren x

    • 3 September 2014 / 08:59

      Aaaah, I was hoping this blog post would help out even my international blog readers – thank you for letting me know, Lauren. 🙂 x

  3. 1 September 2014 / 23:20

    Oh wow…! Such a detailed post, Luzanne! Good job!
    I never realized how easy it was for us in the US to just hop online and click buy. Kudos to y’all!!

    • 3 September 2014 / 09:01

      Thanks, Lily! 🙂

      Yes, you guys do have it quite easy compared to here… Do you guys pay any sort of taxes when parcels arrive from overseas?

      Our postal service is also a bit meh…so that makes it even more frustrating! xox

  4. 2 September 2014 / 08:35

    Yay, so glad you published this! Can’t wait for the next part.

    • 3 September 2014 / 09:02

      You’re welcome, Tarryn! 🙂

  5. Zee Mohlapi
    2 September 2014 / 08:53

    I found this blog post to be very helpful and detailed, thank you Lu. I agree, I have been so disappointed by the postal service here on so many occasions. I send my gran letters becoz she lives in Soweto and a lot of my letters go missing. And its really sad becoz she loves to receive letters in the mail.

    I feel better about purchasing online now, thank you, and might place my first overseas order soon. 😀


    • 3 September 2014 / 09:04

      It’s a huge pleasure, Zee. So glad you are feeling a little bit more at ease when it comes to online shopping – once you’ve received your little parcel in the mail, you will be HOOKED!

      I’m so sorry to hear about the letters to your gran, it’s so disappointing. 🙁


  6. 2 September 2014 / 09:04

    Thanks for all the info! It was especially helpful to read all about shopping on eBay – I’ve always ordered from Amazon instead. (I do like that Amazon makes you pay customs in advance and then couriers your parcel directly to you, so no post office waits! If they overestimate your customs fees, the rest gets refunded.)

    • 3 September 2014 / 09:06

      Thanks for letting us know how Amazon works, Laura. 🙂 I have heard other people also prefer to order from Amazon, but the couple of times I’ve tried, I couldn’t find a seller who was willing to send my items to South Africa (I was looking for specific things). So kind of just stuck with eBay from then on because a lot of the sellers on eBay do ship to SA. 🙂

    • 3 September 2014 / 09:07

      And thank you for leaving such a sweet comment, Simônè. x

  7. Clara Dinkelmann
    2 September 2014 / 11:12

    L-O-V-E-D this blog post, wow!!!!!

    • 3 September 2014 / 09:08

      Thanks, Clara! I remember your email regarding online shopping to me was one of the first I received last year, so I’m hoping this blog post will help out those who are too scared / shy to ask. 🙂

  8. 2 September 2014 / 11:12

    Great post! I’ve always been too nervous to shop on E-Bay or Etsy, but I’m feeling a little bit more confident now that I know the process. Thanks for sharing!

    • 3 September 2014 / 09:09

      It’s a pleasure, Chereen. But let me warn you: Once you start, you won’t be able to stop! The addiction is REAL! 😉

      You are going to see such cute things for little Bean, guaranteed! x

  9. Tjoppie
    3 September 2014 / 14:11

    Great informative post!

    • 4 September 2014 / 09:36

      Thanks, Momma! 😉

  10. Martie
    3 September 2014 / 14:19

    Wow, thank you for this post Luzanne… It is so informative and will definitely come in handy. Good Job!!! A quick question (for myself), how do you know when parcels that came via USPS have arrived in SA? I am currently waiting for 3 parcels, and I am really starting to freak out that I will not get them with this SAPO strike going on… Eep

    • 4 September 2014 / 09:38

      You’re welcome, Martie!

      Apparently the strike is over now, I’ve slowly started receiving my post (no parcel slips yet)… Do you have the international tracking number? If not, there’s not much you can do except maybe ask the sellers / online shops you bought from if they can check from their side.

  11. Tess
    21 October 2014 / 18:22

    You can only trace your pacel using the Uk tracking no to the point where your pacel is handed over to Sapo for delivery Thereafter there is no way of tracking your pacel if you do not hear from Sapo providing you with a new no what do you do this has happed to me

    • 22 October 2014 / 15:23

      You can use your international tracking number using the ‘Global Track & Trace’ website or the ‘Parcel Track’ website (both are linked to in this blog post. 🙂 I’ve used both these websites in the past and it worked really well, they even told me at which SAPO post office my parcel was situated and when it arrived.

      The problem now comes in with SAPO being in such a state of chaos – noone knows what’s going to happen with the postal service. Thousands of parcels are just being stock piled at the hubs and noone is working to send them out. I don’t think we’ll be receiving any parcels anytime soon (I’ve been waiting for parcels sent from the UK, US & Korea to arrive for the last 3 months). So even if you had a local tracking number, it wouldn’t help you because the post offices are not receiving (or sending) any parcels locally.

      • 22 October 2014 / 15:25

        I’ve often gone to my local post office (where I know my parcel will be sent to) and have asked them to check for my name in their book on all parcels received – sometimes they were friendly and checked for me, and other times they refused. I guess it depends if they’re feeling charitable that day. 🙂

  12. 9 August 2015 / 20:03

    Hi I see you say your tracking number changes when it arrives in SA where do I find the new tracking number ??

  13. Leigh McFarlane
    15 October 2015 / 09:37

    I just love you blog posts Luzanne! This has been sooooooo incredibly helpful! So detailed and informative and explained so concisely and simply! THANK YOU

  14. Tasniem
    22 August 2016 / 19:16

    I ordered from bh cosmetics as well as make up revolution I haven’t received tracking numbers, what was your experience like when purchasing from bh cosmetics. I listed a full delivery address thinking that it would be delivered to my doorstep but now read on your blog that they deliver to a post box? Please help I’m so confused it’s the first time I have ordered overseas, thanks in advance

    • 23 August 2016 / 17:39

      Hi Tasniem, it depends which shipping method you chose when you paid for your cart items. As far as I know ‘Standard International’ shipping is via postal service, and ‘Expedited International’ shipping is via courier (physical address). They’ve changed their shipping options since I wrote this blog post, in the past they only shipping their parcels to South Africa via postage.

      My Makeup Revolution parcel was delivered via postal service.

      I hope that helps. 🙂

  15. Sameem
    16 May 2017 / 15:26

    Hi Luzanne

    I know this post is sooo old 🙂

    Nonetheless, i know you are clued up when it comes to online shopping.

    Do banks charge an extra fee besides the usual currency conversion fee when paying via Paypal?

    Thanks for the lovely posts

    • 17 May 2017 / 13:39

      Hi Sameem – nope, I haven’t noticed any conversion fees being charged when I’ve used PayPal. 🙂

  16. Paola Lima
    19 October 2017 / 12:26

    Hi, Luzanne!
    I know that THIS post is old but I just moved from Brazil to South Africa and I’m glad I found it. I did not find this information on any other site just on your blog. Thank you so much for writing it. I just have a question about the customs fees. Do you know if there is a limit to what you are not charged? For example, in Brazil purchases up to 50 dollars are exempt from customs fees. Is there something like this here in South Africa or are we taxed on any purchase value?
    Thanks again!


    Ps. in Brazil we also have problems with postal strikes and missing orders. =(

  17. jolene
    16 November 2017 / 16:53

    Hi there! Thanks fot the informative blog post
    . I want to order some nail polishes from the Bornpretty store but im not sure if were allowed to receive nail polishes from abroad. Your info will be very much appreciated

    • 20 November 2017 / 15:09

      Hi Jolene,

      As far as I know, overseas online stores are not allowed to ship nail polishes or any other flammable items (hairspray or other cans) to South Africa anymore. 🙁

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