Published August 13th 2021

Life is easier... and harder


Ordering stuff online has made purchases so much easier, but sometimes it’s really a pain to buy on the web

I have a Manfrotto monopod that I have had for many years. It’s a nice and sturdy support for those situations where I need some stability, but don’t want to drag along a tripod. I have also used it as a very potent selfie stick as well as a pole used to elevate the camera to take "realtor-style" photos where I needed a high perspective, but had nothing to get up on to get to the proper height.

Manfrotto spares
As with basically all Manfrotto gear, it’s a solid piece of work. My model is an older one, and is made from aluminum rather than the more modern (and much more expensive) carbon fiber. It’s not a big issue since I’m not dragging it much around, and only use it now and then.
It’s telescopic and locks and unlocks with a series of levers made from plastic. Many years ago I dropped the tripod and broke one of these levers. Not so much that it became useless, but enough to make it slightly shorter and a bit harder to use. I couldn’t find the broken bit, so I just padded the cracked part with some gaffer tape in order to protect my fingers from the sharp edges.
It didn’t look very nice, and over the years the gaffer has become kinda sticky and dirty even though I have changed it a few times.
A couple of months ago I had had enough, and decided to check my options for spare parts.
Luckily Manfrotto is a proper company with good service, and of course there was a spare lever to get in spite of the monopod being discontinued and fairly old. No local dealers seemed to deal with Manfrotto spares, so I had to find it abroad.

On the web site Official Global Manfrotto Spare Parts and Service Center you will find spare parts for a large number of Manfrotto (Bogen) products, and by typing in the product number of my monopod – a 680B/MK25 – I could find a list of the parts available. What I needed was a R475.02, but as Manfrotto kindly informed me, this had been replaced by the R055,324N Lever With Screws. The price was 9.47 Euros or about 11 US$. Not cheap for a piece of plastic, but inexpensive enough to have me add it to the basket and check out.
Oh, well… postage had to be added. A mere 8.13 Euros… sigh. But no avoiding it, the lever wouldn’t fly here itself, and postage is one of the curses of buying online, often – like in this case – doubling the price of the purchase.
So the order was confirmed. One R055,324N. Lever With Screws 1, 17.60 Euros or close to 21 US$. Pretty steep, but the deed was done, and the credit card had bled. It was June 26th.

Two days later Manfrotto could inform me that my order had been shipped with a note: "Order shipped via Royal Mail."
Ah, that was not good. Royal Mail means the UK, and the UK is not Italy. Or rather I thought the spare came from Italy, the home country of Manfrotto, safely and conveniently located inside the EU. But it was sent from the UK, since January 1st no longer a member of the EU. Mailing from outside the EU means that the package is subject to all kinds of taxes, VAT, customs fees and whatnot.
I have received stuff from abroad that cleared these obstacles unscathed, but I braced myself for the letter from Postnord, the Scandinavian postal service, telling me to pay VAT before they’d release my package. And true enough. Within about a week on July 6th I could see on the Royal Mail track&trace page that "Your item is currently with Customs in the destination country."
So it was now a waiting game.

I went on a family holiday the last week of July, and when I returned had a letter in my mailbox stamped July 19th. Yes, a physical letter, printed on paper and packed in an envelope! Postnord is after all a postal service, so why not stimulate their own business on my tab?
This letter directed me to the online service for paying customs on private packages. So in other words I had to go online and enter the printed address and codes into their system and pay the 25% VAT applied to the package, which clearly said "value 7.58 GBP" on the Customs Declaration CN22 attached to the back of the letter.
25% of 7.58 GBP amounts to 1.90 GBP or 16.00 Danish Kroners.
And then of course the handling fee for Postnord, 128.- Danish Kroners… and VAT of the fee, another 25% giving 32.- DKK.
So altogether DKK 176.- or some 20 GBP on top of the price and postage!

Yikes, yikes and double yikes!

Let me normalize that in US$ for you.

One R055,324N Lever With Screws11.10 US$
Postage from the UK9.53 US$
Danish VAT, 25% of $21.-5.25 US$
Customs fee20.17 US$
Danish VAT, 25% of $20.175.04 US$
My expenses for a lever and a screw51.09 US$

Repair done
50 dollars to get a bit of plastic and a screw, which was already pretty expensive at a base price of 11 dollars...

Yikes, yikes and double yikes!

I sobbed into the keyboard while paying VAT and fees and VAT and more fees with VAT and taxes and fees added - and probably a hidden fee for being so miserable over the whole affair.
Postnord happily accepted my money and sent me a receipt optimistically announcing that my package would be with me in a day or two. This was dated July 26th, a month after I bought the spare.
So it was back to the waiting game.

My life with Postnord has taught me that their days are comparable to human weeks. So in 1-2 weeks, well into August, I could most likely expect a small letter in my mailbox containing a minuscule Manfrotto spare part and a screw.
Today, August the 11th, close to three weeks after they had said 1-2 days, I decided to call customers service and ask what might be happening.
Press 1 for… press 2 for… You know the drill.
If your invoice starts with 000 press 3, if it starts with 006 press 4 or whatever it said. I pressed the buttons and was greeted with horrible elevator music for a very long time. While this was going on I dug into my mails and found the track&trace data from both Royal Mail and Postnord, so I could have everything ready for the poor customer supporter who would handle my case, most likely after a dozen minutes of agonizing elevator music.

But lo and behold!

Right there – on both pages – it said "Tuesday 10 August 2021 07:56 – Arrived at Delivery Office – 2605"
2605 is the zip-code of the neighboring community, and it was stamped yesterday. Could this be true?
I cut off the music with a sigh of relief and raced to the letterbox, which is out on the street. And yes, there it was! A small padded envelope from the UK, containing one lever and one screw.
Just a mere 45 days after I ordered it, and at only about 5 times the actual price of the item!

I’ve had things delivered from Ukraine and Japan faster and with less expenses, and I’m probably going to hesitate the next time I see that an order is being sent from the UK. Sorry you Brits, but Brexit probably means an end to my UK shopping. I’ll place my orders inside the EU whenever I can. One thing is waiting 45 days, that’s sometimes the name of the game. But paying 5 times the price will not happen again.