What's the story?
With all the political upheaval currently in play in eastern Europe, a different kind of oppression is flying under the radar here yet shaking Russia’s fashion world: a ban on lacy underwear. Beginning 1 July this year, underwear containing less than six per cent cotton will reportedly be barred from being imported, made, or sold in Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The bottom line: Victoria’s Secret is out, sensible undies are in. Cue panty riot jokes.
So could the Russians enforce the ban online? And why are we talking about it here?
What is geo-blocking?
Geo-blocking prevents shoppers from accessing clothing overseas through internet service provider (ISP) restrictions. It’s how the eastern bloc may attempt to stem the flow of lacy underwear. Closer to home, it’s also how Australian consumers are being barred from buying cheaper clothing from overseas retailers.
Geo-blocking is commonly encountered by Australian consumers, who are often charged hefty mark-ups on identical clothing that can be bought for much less in other parts of the world. One of the most frustrating issues is that the price is often right with online retailers until you reach the checkout, only to be thwarted at the last step with a message saying shipping to Australia is impossible.
When we asked consumers to tell us about the online sellers from which they’d had trouble buying products, the two most commonly mentioned were Asos and Amazon.
CHOICE asked Asos why some products weren't available to Australian consumers. A spokesperson said: "We always endeavor to offer our global customers the biggest product offering of branded items, however it is at the brand's discretion to decide what markets they are available to on Asos. This is often due to other existing partnerships they may have in those territories and their global strategies."
Amazon did not respond to CHOICE's requests for comment.
Just how much more are we paying?
There are plenty of examples of clothing that costs more for Australians than it does overseas. CHOICE checked out several different items of clothing, and found lots that cost significantly less in the US than here. Levi’s jeans were the worst culprit, with Australian consumers paying 60% more than our northern friends for our 510s.
Online clothes shopping
|Cost in Australia ($)
||Cost in the US ($AU)
|Levi’s 510 skinny fit jeans
| $119.95 (Myer)
||$74.85 (Levi’s US)
|Mango Guipure dress
| $169.95 (Mango Australia)
||$132.05 (Mango US)
|North Face Women’s oso hoodie
|$200 (The North Face AU)
||$154.10 (The North Face US)
|Uniqlo Women’s ultra light down jacket
| $99.90 (UNIQLO AU)
||$76.95 (UNIQLO US)
| Coach lightweight stole
|| $235 (Coach AU)
|| $162.95 (Coach US)
What can you do to get around clothing geo-blocking?
Prior to the current online boom, it was difficult – and sometimes impossible – to shop in the US from the other side of the planet. But things have changed.
Some sites automatically redirect Australian consumers to their local sites, making it difficult for consumers to look at the cheaper prices on offer to overseas consumers. However, there are some ways of getting around this.
As a client connecting to a virtual private network (VPN) server that’s in the same country as the site you’re attempting to access, you can look at the prices companies charge their local consumers. In cases where companies don’t require a local credit card number and address, it's possible to order directly from them using a VPN. In cases where they do, you can use the site to get an idea of the price being charged, then use a third-party delivery service to get the item to Australia.
There are lots of free and paid VPN service providers available online. Some popular options include Hola, TorVPN, LogMeIn Hamachi, Hotspot Shield, HMA, IPVanish and Overplay.
An alternative to using a VPN is to adopt a US-based Domain Name System (DNS) server, such as unblock-us.com, for about $5 per month. Rerouting your internet connection through a DNS server – a simple configuration in your computer’s network preferences – can also trick the site you’re attempting to access into believing you are in fact elsewhere.
Third-party delivery services
Third-party delivery services, such as MyUS and Australian-based company Price USA, remove physical shipping barriers, opening up new shopping opportunities for Australian consumers.
How do they work? Basically, you purchase the product, enter the warehouse address of the parcel-forwarding service you choose, and they redirect the mail to your Australian address. Some services let you bundle your parcels into one package, meaning you can save on shipping by combining a few purchases in one lot.
Some companies, such as Price USA, actually buy the product on your behalf. But beware: some of the forwarding services won’t estimate your shipping costs until after you’ve purchased the product, so any savings could be substantially reduced once postage is factored in.