iHerb or Vitacost? A UK Gal's Guide


I have been meaning to write this post FOREVER. It seems that lately, a lot more of my fellow #greenbbloggers have been looking in to making orders from the heavens that are iHerb and Vitacost. For those that don't know, the aforementioned are amazing online stores that carry hoards of enticing green/natural/vegan beauty products and food items. They make it easier for us internationals to purchase popular American brands like Acure Organics, Andalou Naturals and Honeybee Gardens. However, purchasing usually comes with looming customs fees and I'm here to inform you about how to decide on which website to use and ways to minimise fees and optimise spending value ;-) This guide is based on UK shopping, but would be helpful for others in European countries!

Before even thinking about making an order, ask yourself the following questions:

Is what I want available from a UK source? If so, is there much saving from importing? Am I even allowed to import this product?

These are the main things you will need to consider. If you can get the product from a site such as Amazon without much price difference, go for it. You will find a lot of US sellers on Amazon UK who export many popular beauty products for affordable prices. I would suggest this for brands such as Devita, Andalou Naturals and Sibu Beauty which are all found on Amazon for pretty good prices. You are less likely to suffer with customs charges this way as sellers will either include these in the product price and send via Airmail rather than a courier. Finally, make sure you check whether you are actually even legally allowed to import the product as there can be restrictions on items such as nail polish and large amounts of liquid.

iHerb or Vitacost?

If you've decided to make an order, next you need to decide whether to use iHerb or Vitacost. Both have great prices, but each site has benefits and disadvantages in different situations. As a rule, I see it like this: If you're ordering a single item or only a couple items, use Vitacost and select DHL Global Mail. Shipping is slower (but still only 2-ish weeks), but you'll get a refund if your item is lost (iHerb doesn't offer this for Global Mail) and avoid fees if the product price is under £15. In the UK, only imports over the value of £15 are subject to customs fees. Sometimes you will get away with a bit more, but use this as a guide. I'd also note that unlike iHerb, Vitacost doesn't include shipping in the value printed on the package, so you'll get away with ordering something of slightly higher value without fees.

If you are ordering multiple items with considerable group value (£30 and upwards) or need something quickly, I'd suggest using iHerb. The only shipping option worth using on iHerb is DHL Priority Mail. It will arrive in 3-4 days and is fully tracked and refundable if lost. However, this shipping method is notorious for fees and you can expect at least £5 added to your order. I'm yet to master who these fees are worked out (their website isn't too informative either), but I've come to understand it as follows. The minimum charge is a £5 admin fee and this is all I was charged on my first order. It's worth noting that my unlike my other orders, my first was delivered to a home address and there's been speculation that you're likely to incur higher fees when shipping to your place of work. My first order had the value of £22. It's likely that because it was my first order and it was only just over £15, I got away without paying customs. If you're impatient like me, it might be worth the risk. Usually you will receive a text or email asking you to pay these fees before the package is delivered, but sometimes they will deliver then send you an invoice later.

My second and third orders were worth £39.55 and £29.58. These landed me £15 in fees each. Now before you gasp and run away hiding, even with these fees, my orders were still cheaper than they would have been had I ordered all the items from UK sources. Savings will vary when it comes to importing and it's worth budgeting £15 fees as a standard before deciding whether it's cheaper to order from iHerb. For example, if I were to order my Acure shampoo and conditioner from the UK, I would be paying nearly £20 a bottle. If I order from iHerb? With fees included, it's only about £9 a bottle. Before deciding on a website, work out what you would roughly be paying though all three sources; a UK importer, iHerb and Vitacost.

Other hidden fees?

Unfortunately, iHerb also seems to bring with it, hidden fees. As they only allow you to pay via Credit or Debit, most banks will lumber you with a international transaction fee which can be up to 2%. Vitacost, luckily, offers PayPal so no transaction fees and you have the added buyer protection that is standard when using PayPal. However, I would still suggest using iHerb when making particularly large orders as transaction fees and customs are a small price to pay instead of having the possibility of £50+ worth of beauty products going missing in the postal system (oh the horror!). Tracking really is worth it with bigger orders.

So, basically...

Basically, small orders under £30 = use Vitacost. Larger orders over £30 or urgent orders = use iHerb. Always consider fees and make sure there is a saving over using a UK supplier. Get delivered to a home address when possible.

Hope this has been marginally informative and hasn't sent everyone to sleep...

Katie Noblelifestyle