Since I’ve been interested in importing cosmetics and skincare from overseas, I’ve done the bulk of my purchasing through individual e-tailers, but sometimes there are things that I just can’t find available (or available cheaply, which is just as important!) for international sales. When that has happened in the past, I have used a Korean shopping service called Avecko to get my hands on products. Although Avecko’s service isn’t instantaneous (and now that the site has become more popular, it’s slowed down a little bit), the customer service has never disappointed me and I never really thought about straying.
Until recently. Now, this is a hobby blog, so I don’t generally get a lot of communication about much of anything from companies, but a few weeks ago I got an email from the team at Dowaja, which is another Korean shopping service that is located in Seoul, introducing themselves and telling me a little bit about their company. Out of the entirety of the e-mail communication that we’ve had, three things stood out to me.
Firstly, whoever’s been chatting with me, and whoever designed the interface and website, speaks English in a way that is consumer friendly. They have a pretty decent sense of humor, too – the name Dowaja is Korean for “Help me!”.
Secondly, Dowaja offers something that Avecko doesn’t – their willingness to hunt for the lowest price available for a specific product. Just send Dowaja the name of the product, the number of them that you want, and a product URL, and the folks over there will hunt down the lowest price available for you in short order, whether that means buying online and using a domestic shipping service, or running down to a nearby physical store and bringing the product back themselves. This takes a lot of the work out of the price hunting that I’ve had to do to get really good deals through Avecko – and it’s very helpful if you don’t read Hangul well (or at all).
Third, Dowaja is more available for modern communication. If I have questions, a rep from Dowaja is available to chat with me not only over e-mail, but also through Skype.
So I decided to give Dowaja a little test, as it were. I picked a few products that are fairly new to the market, and therefore not easily available at reduced prices, and sent them on a mission!
I placed my “order”, which is really just a list of the products I wanted them to price for me, at around 9:00 PM Central Standard Time, or 11:00 AM Korea Standard Time. And then….. the waiting. (Dun dun DUNNNNNNN!)
Or not. Less than two hours later, I had a response from the Dowaja team. Since I had picked newer products that were not widely available (tricksy me, right?), they were unable to find some of them below the stated retail cost. I was expecting that, frankly, so I wasn’t particularly disappointed. What I was happy about, however, is that they found about half of the products I wanted for lower than list price. The e-mail they sent me included information about the availability of the brands, whether they sold exclusively through particular areas (more on that later), and which items in particular they were able to find discounts for. I had sent them a sale link for one product, and they were kind enough to check it, tell me it was the best price available (I’m so good), and then break the bad news to me that most of the products were no longer in stock. They also told me that one particular item was only in stock in one place, and that it would come with a domestic shipping fee that would actually make the product more expensive than list price. Attached to the e-mail was a spreadsheet-style invoice that listed all the products I wanted and the prices that Dowaja found for me. They also sent a quick follow-up e-mail letting me know that since only one of my items was heavy, I would probably qualify for Small Packet Air Mail service, which is drastically cheaper than EMS shipping.
I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed that they couldn’t find crazy discounts on some of the products – in fact, I had sourced a promo kit of some of the items I wanted that was ridiculously inexpensive, but outside factors delayed my order until the promo was no longer available – but I was more than impressed with how quickly, professionally, and helpfully Dowaja’s team communicated with me. My last follow-up question for the team was whether there were any large upcoming sale events (think Black Friday-style) that I should wait for before placing my order. I know that around the Lunar New Year a lot of the e-tailers I’m familiar with have huge discounts on some of their products, and I’m willing to wait a little to get a good deal, so it seemed like a reasonable question to ask. Dowaja responded to me in less than 15 minutes. The news wasn’t what I wanted to hear (Chuseok, 추석, is the next big holiday, and since I was purchasing from smaller brands it was unlikely that there would be large-scale sales), but the fact that they got back to me and gave me appropriate advice was something that I really appreciated. I told them that I would look over the invoice they sent me and make a decision.
I looked over the invoice for about 20 minutes. I checked US sites to make sure I couldn’t find the products for an equivalent price (I absolutely couldn’t), then I checked South Korean e-tailer sites to check whether it would be cheaper to buy the undiscounted items from a separate e-tailer and just buy the discounted items through Dowaja. Since the only site that had the undiscounted items has been fairly notorious for slow packing and shipping, it seemed like it would be more efficient to buy everything through Dowaja and let them take care of the shipping all in one shot. I sent them an e-mail asking them to remove one item from my list (the one with the extra domestic shipping fee – I absolutely won’t pay more than list price!), and said that I was ready to proceed with the rest of the order as it was listed on the invoice. They double-checked with me to confirm the item removal, and I had an invoice in my G-mail inbox in less than an hour.
I paid the invoice the next morning (hey, I’ve got to sleep sometime).
Dowaja sent me an e-mail thanking me for my payment and promising to keep me posted when my items arrived. They sent me a quick note two days later when half of my products arrived, saying they were sorry that the rest hadn’t come in yet as they were hoping to mail everything to me the next day, but that they would keep me posted in case the rest of the items came in at the last minute.
Lo and behold, early the next morning I had another e-mail! With a question included. The rest of my order had come in, and the company had sent along a free notepad as a thank-you for my order. Unfortunately for my wallet, that notebook weighed enough to bump the shipping charge into the next bracket – which meant that I would be paying almost half again the shipping to get a free item. Dowaja sent me pictures – both of all my stuff in a box with the weight showing (seriously cool), and of the notebook on a scale and the front of the notebook so I could decide what I wanted to do.
I decided that, although my roommate collects notebooks like it’s going out of style, it wasn’t worth the cash to pay for the extra shipping. I e-mailed Dowaja my decision and had an invoice for the shipping within 2 minutes. I paid it off, and they sent my order out the next business day, which was a Monday morning.
And now, on to the math! (I hate math. I am absolutely not a math person. Sorry in advance if I made any mistakes.) Here is my spreadsheet of costs (really just a cheap word document with a table in it).
|Product Name||Retail Price (won)||Korean Etailer Price (won)||US Etailer Price (USD)||Dowaja Price (won, USD)|
|16Brand Fingerpen FA04||18,000||18,000||NA||18,000 ($16.75)|
|16Brand Fingerpen FS01||18,000||18,000||NA||18,000 ($16.75)|
|16Brand Fingerpen FA03||18,000||18,000||NA||18,000 ($16.75)|
|16Brand Gangstatt LT01||16,000||16,000||$27 on eBay (no thanks, wtf)||16,000 ($14.73)|
|Son&Park Air Tint Lip Cube #3||9,500||NA||$12.00 on SokoGlam||7,125 ($6.72)|
|Son&Park Air Tint Lip Cube #4||9,500||NA||$12.00 on SokoGlam||7,125 ($6.72)|
|Son&Park Air Tint Lip Cube #8||9,500||NA||$12.00 on SokoGlam||7,125 ($6.72)|
|Son&Park Air Tint Lip Cube #9||9,500||NA||$12.00 on SokoGlam||7,125 ($6.72)|
|Son&Park Air Tint Lip Cube #10||9,500||NA||$12.00 on SokoGlam||7,125 ($6.72)|
|Son&Park Beauty Water 340mL||25,000||NA||$30.00 on SokoGlam||18,900 ($17.45)|
There is no place other than Dowaja or Avecko where I could buy everything in one shot. If I weren’t using a buying service, I would have to break everything up into at least two orders. Here are a couple ways that could work:
- Buy everything I can at SokoGlam. This would include all of the Son&Park products (5 lip tint cubes and the smaller size of the Beauty Water). I would have to pay $90.00 for all my items, although I would get free shipping and probably some decent samples or something. I’d also have my parcel in 3-4 business days.
- Buy everything I can at TesterKorea. This would include all of the 16Brand items (3 FingerPens and 1 Gangstatt). That would run me $64.98 plus shipping. I might or might not get samples (last time I got a packet labeled “samples” that was empty, which was strange). When I put everything in a cart and pretended to check out, TK gave me the following shipping options:
- DHL shipping takes 3-4 days, and would cost KRW 29,700 ($25.08).
- EMS shipping takes 3-4 days and costs KRW 27,600 ($23.30).
- Air Parcel takes 1-5 weeks and costs KRW 19,900 ($16.72)
- K-Packet takes 1-8 weeks and costs KRW 7,001 ($5.91)
- Registered Airmail takes 1-10 weeks and costs KRW 6,270 ($5.29).
- If I were able to buy everything from the original source (I’m not, since the sites don’t seem to offer international shipping), I would pay 16Brand $64.98 plus shipping, and I would pay Son&Park $40.10 plus shipping. I’d have to find a separate place to buy the Beauty Water, since it’s sold out on their site. Olive Young has it available for $21.13, so I’d have to place an order and probably pay for shipping as well.
My total costs for this shipment came to $138.18, which includes everything: my order itself through Dowaja, which was $116.03; their service fee, which was $11.61; and finally the shipping costs, which were $10.54 for small packet mail, which if you were wondering is a subcategory that falls under the umbrella of Air Parcel mail.
Small packet airmail is slated to take about 9-14 days to arrive, according to Dowaja’s shipping FAQ. Since my package was mailed on Monday, August 24th, in theory it should have arrived between September 3rd and September 14th, since Labor Day is a holiday and doesn’t count. Why Dowaja’s estimated ship time is so much faster than TesterKorea’s is a mystery to me.
One major down side to Dowaja’s small packet airmail, which I didn’t realize until after I’d completed the order, is that it does not come with a tracking number. That totally sucks. I trust Dowaja to have packed and shipped my things when they say they did, so it’s not that I’m concerned about; rather, I’m a compulsive package tracker. I like to be able to pull my parcel tracker up and go “Oh, it’s stuck in customs in New York, so I shouldn’t expect it for another couple days”, or “Hey, it’s here! It’ll be on my porch tomorrow!”. I can’t do that now, and it makes me kind of sad. Where are you, shiny package? NOBODY KNOWS.
Just as predicted, my shiny happy package arrived on my doorstep on September 3rd.
Everything was neatly, securely bubble-wrapped and packed inside, including a full size hand cream that I didn’t order. I’m going to assume that it was some swag from one of the companies where Dowaja got my products, or a thank-you from Dowaja themselves.
Here’s a picture of everything all unwrapped and shiny! Nothing got damaged in transit, everything was still sealed all hygenically.
So here’s the upshot. Was purchasing through Dowaja really worth it? Yes…and no. Like any other purchase, you’re going to have to carefully think over a few things: is the service fee you pay them worth less than either the time you’re going to spend researching your own prices and going with Avecko (which also has a service fee that’s about the same anyway), the money you would spend shipping parcels from multiple retailers, or the time you would spend waiting for a new(ish) product to hit the US or e-tailer market? This particular purchase didn’t cost me any more than paying retail prices would have. Dowaja’s fees basically cancelled out any savings that they found me. On the other hand, I only had to pay to ship items from one place, rather than two, and purchasing all the products from Korea saved me a good chunk of cash compared to doing it half and half.
|SokoGlam and TK||$90 + $64.98||FREE + $16.72||$171.70|
|Dowaja||$116.03||$11.61 + $10.54||$138.18|
It’s worth noting that it would be possible to get cheaper postage from TesterKorea than the $16.72 I used in the table above, if I were willing to accept shipping times that are substantially slower than Air Parcel. Generally I am; however, considering that I am getting basically the same service through Dowaja, for more than twice the package weight as I’d have using through TesterKorea, and I’m paying half the price, and I’m likely to get it faster, this seems like a more honest comparison. Frankly, either way I’d still be paying less than if I split the order.
Since these products aren’t super widely available either in the US or in Korea (Son and Park is available at Olive Young as of like a week and a half ago, and sometimes through Memebox, but 16Brand primarily sells off their website alone), it was worth it to me to be able to get these products quickly, in one shipment, and the fact that Dowaja found me enough of a discount to offset their fees made this a worthwhile test – but I think for more widely available products I’d have to see much, much larger discounts to tempt me to order through them rather than using more traditional methods, like waiting for a Korean e-tailer site to have a sale.