It’s back to school time here in Israel. And we all know what that means: online shopping!
I can’t be the only one, right?
In Israel, just like around the world, the hottest shopping site these days is Aliexpress. There, you can buy directly from China, mostly with free shipping, cutting out the middleman and saving a bundle.
That's the theory, at least.
In practice, it's not so simple. The quality is usually low, and it's better in theory to buy Israeli (or local, wherever you happen to be). Sometimes, though, when buying Chinese is the only option anyway, things do work out much better, price-wise.
But there are many downsides to Aliexpress, including:
- Long shipping time
- Dubious quality merchandise
- No recognizable brand names
- No brands, price comparisons or reviews (sometimes there are reviews, but rarely)
- Merchants don't speak English
The biggest down, however, is that for higher-value items (I think it's over $50), you could get hit with a big tax bill. The same thing was true in Canada - there, anything worth over about $20 could get opened and dinged for import taxes. And there are added fees you have to pay as well if you're billed for taxes. Sometimes, it's just not worth it.
That's why it's nice to know that there are online-shopping alternatives that let you buy "locally" here in Israel. The goods may still be made elsewhere, but you're dealing with local suppliers who know how to get stuff to your door quickly, and can often save you that big tax bill.
The best place to start is on ZAP - zap.co.il. There, you can search (in Hebrew, so use Google Translate if you're not strong at it) for whatever you want, and hopefully, you'll get a whole bunch of good results.
Once you've narrowed down what you're looking for (again, I used Google Translate for the first while to figure out what all the categories were), you can sort your results by price to see who's got the best deals.
What kind of things have I bought through each of these sites? Before you click through to either one, scroll on down for a partial list – and to get some idea of what’s best to buy where.
Despite what you've heard about Israeli companies trying to rip you off, most companies I've bought from online within Israel have been scrupulously polite and friendly. I'm convinced that most online companies, even if they have a big impressive website, are just a couple of guys in some small town somewhere.
One weird thing if you're used to buying online: many places will phone you after you've ordered from them. They'll do this even if your credit card is approved, even if the details of your order are perfectly clear. Maybe they're just calling to make sure nobody's stolen your card, I don't know. I was surprised the first time, but now I've come to expect it, and I was even a little surprised last time I ordered something online and I didn't get a phone call.
And okay, I did get ripped off once: I bought a cellphone through a site I found on Zap and it turned out to be a weird Arab cellphone that couldn't type Hebrew characters and offered to set an alarm for Muslim prayer times. The nearest service centre that would fix the thing, according to the warranty information, was in Jordan.
If you use Zap, please make sure you understand the delivery options. Most prices on Zap include the cost of basic delivery, which is service to your local post office. So they may not come directly to your door.
If you don't relish the thought of shlepping a trampoline up three flights of stairs, it might be best to upgrade the shipping to door-to-door service, if it's available.
And very often, I do find places that have the best prices even with delivery, a big bonus when you don't have a car. That's how we bought Naomi Rivka's small trampoline last winter - delivered within 24 hours.
I have also bought a food processor, my sandals and miscellaneous electronics (mp3 player, cellphone case, screen protector) via Zap, and I've almost always been very pleased with the delivery - especially compared to China!
The pros of buying through Zap:
- Faster delivery than from China
- Never get hit with import taxes
- Appliances work with Israeli current
- Some sites accept PayPal, which stores (and Aliexpress) don't
- Easier to compare models & prices than in person
- No pushy Israeli salespeople!
Yup, I love not having pushy Israeli salespeople hanging over my shoulder trying to upsell me when I already know exactly what I want, just can't express it in my kindergarten Hebrew.
If you’re new to Zap, don’t be scared by all the Hebrew on the site, by the way. Remember, it’s organized the same as any other shopping site. And you only have to pay attention to the categories you’re interested in. If all you want is a mattress (מזרן), just type it in in the top box and forget about everything else on the home screen.
Remember, even though you start your search through Zap, it's just a search engine. Once you find the item you want at the price you want, you click through to the actual supplier website. You pay the supplier and should read carefully (thanks, Google Translate!) the terms on their site before you order.
But Zap does offer one plus that I love: reviews. You can read and post reviews both of items you've bought and of suppliers you've dealt with. Try to check supplier reviews before you buy from their site if it's a company you haven't dealt with before.
My favourite ordering-online-in-Israel story was my shoes.
I was looking for a new pair of arch-support sandals and found the exact ones I wanted. I searched for them in all my usual places online, and also checked prices in Toronto, since we'd be going to Canada soon.
Just out of curiosity, I peeked on Zap as well, and found the EXACT price that I was prepared to pay in Toronto.
So I figured, why not buy them here in Israel, plus have them 2 weeks sooner? I checked the delivery choices and paid the very reasonable rate for the delivery service that would get them here well before our flight.
And then... the guy phoned.
At first, I figured it was just to let me know that I'd ordered shoes. The usual call. But no, apparently, that delivery service was not available at that price after all. If I wanted to pay 20 shekels more, they could deliver them. Otherwise, it was basic post-office delivery, which wouldn't get me the shoes in time.
“Okay,” he said, “then you have to pay more for home delivery.”
"Well," I told the guy honestly. "I wanted to buy the shoes in Canada, but when I saw that I could buy them from you here in Israel, I thought it would be better. If you can't deliver them, that's no problem; I'll just buy them in Canada."
"Just a second," he said.
He pretended to be doing something on the computer, then came back and said, "Okay, I just found out about a special on those shoes. We can deliver to you at home."
I agreed. He then offered them to me in orange, instead, if I wanted (I didn't). The shoes arrived a few days later at my door.
To give you a better idea of what’s good to buy where, here’s a list of some stuff I’ve bought online in the last couple of years.
Stuff I've bought at AliExpress:
- - Headphones & USB computer headset
- - Stretch bands and other exercise equipment (one ball arrived without a pump so I requested and received a full refund)
- - Camera case
- - Tablet case (three so far, one arrived in damp and disgusting condition)
- - Skipping rope
- - Freezer pop makers (weird smelly silicone/plastic that I refuse to use)
- - Pastry cutter/blender
- - Cheap but super-sharp ceramic knives
- - Heatproof oven gloves (one pair arrived too mildewed to use)
Stuff I've bought online in Israel through Zap:
- - Epilator
- - Food processor
- - Blender
- - Chaco Yampa sandals (I actually typed “Yampa” in English into Zap)
- - Cell phone (but it wasn't available, so the order was mutually cancelled)
- - Cell phone (but it was stupid and Arabic, see above)
- - Tower fan (but it never worked, so they came and took it away - twice)
- - MP3 player and case
- - Cordless phone
It looks like most of the things I buy on Aliexpress fall into the category of either "can't find here" or "too expensive here." Plus, I notice, none of them plug into the wall (unlike most of what I've bought through Zap).
There are tons of other sites out there that help you shop, of course. But since these two are my main starting points these days, I thought I'd share this with you to help you get started.
After all, the kids are back in school now. What better time to hunt online for those things you desperately need… or want… or dream of buying someday?
Someone, please, tell me I’m not the only one.