Living in NZ, Shopping Overseas: Apology Necessary?

Why are quality clothes and cosmetics notably more expensive in New Zealand than in other Western markets? Should I feel bad about shopping overseas and having items shipped here?

A substantial amount of my wardrobe, and most of my shoes, comes from overseas, i.e., retailers outside of New Zealand. There are three reasons: sizes, selection, and “economies of scale.”

Everyone has a size rant, and you don’t need to hear mine. Selection is not a necessity to put clothes on one’s back, but a desire for a first-world luxury. But let’s take a closer look at those “economies of scale.”

Math: still this glamorousOutside of the importing retail giant The Warehouse, clothing and cosmetic prices are comparatively high in New Zealand. Blame is often laid on NZ government tariffs. But these are, according to NZIS (PDF document here) set at 9.5% for clothing, 6.5% for footwear, and 3.5% for fragrance.  That is…actually not that bad. Blame is also laid on shipping – and the costs incurred by outside NZ vendors shipping independently to New Zealand show that this, also, doesn’t account for the full story behind inflated prices. For example, let’s look at this pair of Naya shoes, originally priced at $140 in the USA. When we convert that to NZ currency, they are currently $165 NZD – let’s apply $10 tariffs, $15 shipping – let’s round it up a wee bit for stocking/processing and say $190 NZD.  But they’re for sale in downtown Wellington boutiques for $260. An MAC lipstick, about $15 in US, is currently $18 in NZD, with a tariff of – I can’t give it anything less than $5 and maintain my sanity – and minimal shipping. Again, let’s be generous and account for staffing/stocking and say $30. Instead, it’s $40. MAC is only sold via large corporate outlets, with counters in stores or as standalone stores themselves. So we have two items, in different retail settings, that average a mysterious 25% additional cost.

Math was never my strong point, but something seems wrong.

Are these higher prices perhaps a hangover from days when the NZ dollar was weaker? It’s been on the high side against the US dollar for a good eight months now, so for these new-season items, should we be seeing reduced prices?

If any NZ retailers out there have something to say about this, please, comment! Keep it clean and polite – we really want to know.

Meanwhile, in the past two years many international retailers have discovered it wasn’t the end of the world to ship to the end of the world. The response amongst NZ ladyconsumers is that links are being swapped. Endless for shoes, Strawberrynet for cosmetics, Asos for everything in all sizes. Ebay and Etsy sellers are in on the game.

For me, the occasional downside of buying mail order and overseas is getting stuck with lame ducks. Online reviewing reduces this tremendously, I find.  But what’s the downside for NZ and my local economy? I’m sucking money away from that.

I know brick and mortar stores have their costs, and the minimum wage in NZ is a living wage.  And I know local makeup artists. They are lovely and helpful. They get a bit if I buy from their counters. Personally, I feel there is a tackiness to trying colors at their counter, then running away and buying online.

In the USA, where online shopping has advanced tremendously, the retail landscape has been transformed. Borders Books has gone through a global collapse. In San Francisco on Valencia Street, every third boutique seemed emptied  by year 3 of a recession combined with the punch of Etsy as a quirky retail juggernaut. Here in NZ, we are seeing the retail impact of online shopping begin with the antique and vintage places that have shrunk and vanished, often citing online sale/auction sites.

To end on a slightly encouraging note, here are a list of NZ made items that are well priced and great quality:

  • Leather bags and wallets from Konev. I could go on all day about how great, sexy, and durable these are.
  • Thunderpants fun, amazing underwear and clothes.
  • Frutti on Cuba Street in Wellington stocks a range of affordable retro-flavored delights, mostly made in New Zealand.
  • Art and clothing from – note this lovely dress from Pixie Pocket! And this other one from coolitdaddyo! Made to your exact size, even. NZ vintagistas are ordering a lot of dresses from China-made ChicStar and retro-repro purveyors in the USA. You can see that we have price-competitive local alternatives.


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