The rise of online shopping is showing no signs of slowing, with even more people this year likely to turn to e-commerce websites as an alternative to shopping on high streets and in malls. With a growing number of consumers exploring virtual shopping options, the e-commerce market has become increasingly competitive. Sometimes, one site may seem to undercut that competition by selling goods for significantly cheaper prices, with these sites frequently based outside of the United States.

There is always an element of risk with online shopping, as you cannot verify the type and the quality of the product until it arrives on your doorstep. However, purchasing from familiar brands is normally a safe process, aided by the understanding that major companies will be liable to US regulations and likely to respond quickly to any mistakes with the order. This is not to say that US consumers won't be able to find bargains from foreign websites, but it means that more care and research may be needed before completing the checkout process.

Often, items will be considerably less expensive abroad than from domestic sites. When it comes to pricier products like electronic goods, any sort of saving can make a big difference for the consumer. So, what should you do if you think you've found the perfect item at the perfect price from an overseas seller?

Check postage costs

The obvious disadvantage of ordering from abroad is the distance that your package may have to travel. Increased travel often brings increased postage costs, which can vary between different regions. Counter-intuitively, sometimes postage from abroad may even be cheaper than ordering within the US. Paying a hefty fee on postage can compromise the lower price of the product, while it is worth checking with the vendor to verify a delivery date in case you're ordering items to arrive for a particular occasion. Also, you may be expected to fork out extra cash to pay for customs charges or commerce taxes, depending on the size and cost of your order.

Consider exchange rates

Postage is an obvious cost, but exchange rates are an underappreciated factor of ordering from abroad. Traders use the services of forex brokers sites to capitalize on currency fluctuations, buying and selling at their chosen time so the markets work in their favor. In commerce that volatility comes at the consumer's expense, with no way to swing the currency markets to the shopper's advantage. If exchange rates change between your commitment to the purchase and your actual payment, then you may end up with a bigger outlay than you originally planned. This can be avoided by paying in the native currency, something more easily facilitated when using payment methods such as PayPal.

Research the company

When ordering from any site for the first time it is always worth researching online reviews to gauge other customers' experiences. If it's your first time ordering from a site in the US, you may already be aware of the brand or know people that have dealt successfully with the company. If your site is based abroad then you probably won't have those luxuries, so take the time to read consumer reviews to help you distinguish less reputable sites from those that can be trusted. You should also check the consumer rights for the region, so you can be confident that companies will be expected to adhere to a certain level of regulation.

Purchasing from a seller based abroad is frequently a stress-free experience that provides value for the consumer. However, it is imperative that you consider the effect of postage, exchange rates, and the company's reputation before making a purchase.