This guide specifically refers to yarn purchases, but this advice can be applied to most types of purchases from international Etsy sellers.
With the limited selection of colours available from North American loop yarn brands, many loop yarn finger-knitters inevitably find themselves tempted to 'go to the source' and buy loop yarn directly from Turkey (i.e. Alize Puffy yarns).
First, let me help to clear up the relationship between Bernat Alize Blanket-EZ yarn and Alize Puffy yarn, since I see a lot of confusion online. Alize Yarns is the original creator of the loop yarn process used in both yarns. Alize sells their own (original) version of loop yarn in Turkey and in the the European/Middle Eastern/Baltic markets. Bernat is the North American distributor of loop yarns using the Alize process (thus why 'Alize' is part of their loop yarn product names).
Alize Yarns has several loop yarn options, with many more colours than are available from its American distributor, Bernat. At the time of this blog post, you can find four different types of loop yarn as part of their Alize Puffy line:
- Alize Puffy and Alize Puffy Color (similar to Bernat Alize Blanket-EZ)
- Alize Puffy Fur (same as above, but in a fluffy faux-fur texture)
- Alize Puffy Fine, Alize Puffy Fine Color and Alize Puffy Fine Ombre Batik (smaller loops)
- Alize Puffy More (similar to Bernat Alize Blanket-EZ Graph It)
(click on the links above to see the colour selection on the Alize Yarns website)
One option to purchase these yarns is Amazon. This option may be a bit less intimidating if you're already comfortable with buying on Amazon, and you have the added purchase protection and return policy*, but your selection is somewhat limited, and the prices are not always competitive.
* Note that while Etsy sellers may each have their own specific shop policies for returns and refunds, Etsy does also offer its own buyer protection policy, which offers some additional protections.
A quick peek at Etsy sellers reveals much lower prices, but the shipping costs can seem very high, and the fear of added customs/duty fees jacking up the cost on arrival can be a deterrent. It's also hard to know who to trust! Everyone's heard horror stories of fake resellers or orders that never arrive, and the thought of trying to communicate with non-English speaking sellers can feel intimidating. And with so many yarn resellers, trying to narrow down your options and pick just one can be a challenge.
I've created this guide as a way to hopefully demystify the process, and provide you with a list of criteria to help you find the right Etsy shop to buy your loop yarn from.
Adjusting your search parameters
The first step to finding the right Etsy seller for you is to narrow your search results.
In the Etsy search bar, type "Alize Puffy Yarn" (or whichever specific yarn you are looking to buy). Once the results are displayed, you can refine your search by using the filter option.
On desktop, you'll find the 'All filters' button under the top rated results on the left side of your screen. On mobile, you'll find the 'Filter' button under the search bar on the right side of your screen.
When you click on the filter button, you are offered various options. The most important variable is whether a seller ships to your country; so find the shipping option and select your country. Note: Your country may already be set as the default.
On desktop, you will look for the 'Delivers to' option at the bottom of the filter list and select your country from the drop-down menu. On mobile, go to the 'Ships to' option about halfway down the list and select your country from the drop-down menu.
Next, you may want to select the 'Free Shipping' option.
This one is a bit tricky, because although many international shippers may offer free shipping, how they have set up their store settings can vary. Free shipping may be the default, or offered with minimum purchase and calculated automatically at checkout, or they may offer a coupon code that you need to add manually. So although searching for stores with free shipping is a good place to start, you may also want to try searches without this option checked, so that you can widen your search to those other options.
On desktop, you will check the 'Free delivery' box at the top of the filter list. On mobile, you will find the 'Shipping' option halfway down the list and then check the 'Free shipping' box.
Now to review the search results. Accept your filter selections.
On desktop, click on the 'Apply' button. On mobile, click on the 'Show results' button.
Picking a reliable seller
Star Seller Program
Now that you have your search results, there are a few more ways to narrow down your options. Etsy has created one way to help customers to determine what makes a reliable seller, namely their Star Seller Program.
Here's an example of what the Star Seller label and benchmarks look like on desktop for my Etsy store (Etsy routinely changes their interface layout, so this may change):
The 'Star Seller' label indicates a seller who excels in three specific areas, while also meeting a certain number of sales (based on the last 3 months:
- Excellent reviews: The seller has at least 95% 5-star reviews
- Responsiveness: The seller responds to initial messages within 24 hrs.
- Reliable dispatching times and tracking: The seller dispatches at least 95% of their orders within their stated processing times, and offers tracking.
During this 3-month period, Star Sellers also need to have at least 10 orders, $300 in sales, and have been on Etsy’s platform for at least 90 days since their first sale.
A loop yarn store that does not have the 'Star Seller' label may still be an excellent seller! Some International sellers who offer tracking may not follow the correct processes to enter tracking numbers directly on Etsy, preferring to message the seller directly, for instance. Not all sellers have embraced the Star Seller program and prefer to do things their own way - which is fine - the 'Star Seller' label is just one of the ways to narrow down your search.
One of the easiest ways to assess if a seller is reliable is to check their order count. Reliable sellers tend to have higher numbers and repeat sales. This number can occasionally be misleading - for instance a store that sells a variety of items may excel in one area and falter in others. Because stores can sell both physical and digital items, you wan to be sure that they have reliable service specifically for physical items, and even more specifically for the product that you are hoping to buy.
One way to determine a seller's sales history is to go to the seller's storefront and click on the sales number (located under their shop name). Depending on whether the seller has chosen to make their sales history public or private, you may be able to look at this history to see if their sales are based on the item or similar items to what you are looking to buy.
Moving on to reviews: You can see a seller's average review rating on search results, listings and at the top of their storefront. To read individual reviews, you have two options:
One is to scroll to the bottom of the listing for the item you are looking to purchase. Here you will find reviews for the store with reviews specific to the item listing given first priority, and all other reviews after that.
Your second option is to view all reviews at the bottom of the seller's storefront. The order that reviews are presented there is based on own Etsy's algorithm, rather than by date. If you would prefer to view reviews by date, go to your browser search bar and type the stores web address with "/reviews" at the end - this will give you the seller's reviews in reverse chronological order, with the most recent reviews first. This is a good way to determine not just if a seller is reliable, but also whether they are currently and recently reliable.
What to look for in seller reviews
Positive reviews are a good indicator of a reliable seller, but numbers aren't the only thing that matters - it's important to read the content of those reviews to determine their relevance to your purchase experience.
Some factors to consider when reading reviews:
- Are the positive reviews specific to my item?
- Are there reviews specific to my country/location?
- Do reviewers mention duty or custom fees?
- Do reviewers mention easy communication with the seller?
- Do reviewers mention tips for bulk purchases or ways to save on shipping costs?
Item-specific reviews: As mentioned above, you can find item-specific reviews by reading the reviews directly on the listing page.
Country-specific reviews: When buying from international sellers, some reviewers can be very helpful by mentioning their location in their review. You won't always find this information, but it is especially helpful to know the experience of similar buyers, because if there are country- or region-specific issues like delays or extra fees, other buyers are your best resource. Sellers generally will not have this information.
Duty or customs fees: Whether you'll be charged duty or customs fees depends on many different variables, so it's important to understand that no seller can give you a 100% guarantee that you will not be charged customs or duty fees. Even repeat sellers sometimes find that they are randomly charged fees when they have never been charged them in the past.
The reasons for this are a bit complicated, but a few factors that influence this can be the shipping carrier, how the seller and shipping carrier complete the shipping forms, and the size of your order. Buyers sometimes also mistakenly believe they are being charged duty, when in fact its sales tax due on receipt. Either way, your best odds of not being charged are to use a seller and carrier combination that has worked for your peers, so finding reviews that say things like "I use their express shipping option with DHL and have never been charged customs fees" can be extremely helpful.
Seller communications: The best way to know if a seller is responsive and can communicate in your language is to reach out to them with a question! But if you're feeling nervous about it, reading reviews that suggest it will be a positive experience can help.
Buyer tips: Customer reviews can be a great way to find tips to get the best price and select a shipping method. As mentioned above, tips on customs and duty fees, as well as bulk order and express shipping can often be found there. While some sellers mention these tips within their listings, details can sometimes be sparse. Buyers who've done their legwork finding the best deal often enjoy sharing their 'tricks' with other buyers.
Free shipping, bulk orders and express shipping
Shipping costs are one of the most nerve-wracking parts of buying multiple items on Etsy. Etsy offers sellers the tools to offer reduced shipping costs on multiple items, but that doesn't mean all sellers use them! If you add 10 skeins of yarn to your basket, you may find the shipping cost at checkout ends up being enormous. Many sellers offer free or reduced shipping costs on bulk orders, but you need to know what to do to get them.
Where to look for shipping policies and discounts
The first place to find shipping information is in the search results. You may notice the words 'FREE delivery' or 'Eligible orders deliver free' under the listing price. The next place to look is within the listing description. Finally, if you go to the seller's storefront, many sellers have shipping information either in their banner or in their shop's 'Announcement' section (found under the shop name on desktop, and all the way at the bottom on mobile).
Free shipping can come in a few different forms.
- Standard offer: If a shop has a standard free shipping policy, or item-specific policy, it will be automatically applied and you don't need to do anything special to receive the discount.
- Minimum purchase: Stores will often offer free shipping with a minimum dollar-value purchase. Be sure to note the currency of the required purchase value as it may not match the currency you are using, so you will need to calculate the equivalent amount. Once you add enough items to your basket, the shipping cost should change to free on your checkout page.
- Coupon code: Similar to minimum purchase above, you will likely have to purchase a minimum number of items, then add a coupon code at checkout. If adding the code doesn't reduce your total cost, be sure to check the terms of the coupon (and verify the currency of the minimum purchase amount as mentioned above).
- Refund after purchase: Some sellers prefer to refund shipping costs after purchase. It's up to you how comfortable you are with this option, depending on how reliable and trustworthy you feel the seller is. Also note that when dealing with foreign currency conversion, there may be small differences (positive or negative) in the amount you pay and what is refunded, so you could potentially lose some pennies on this transaction (although paying pennies for shipping is still a good deal!).
Buying bulk to save on shipping is typically something international yarn sellers are used to dealing with. After all, as resellers, that's how they get discounts on their orders too! If all you are looking for is a few skeins to complete a small project, this probably isn't feasible for you as a way to get a discount. But if you are a blanket-knitter like me, you're probably looking to buy 8-15 skeins at a time for each blanket project.
Note that Alize Puffy yarn skeins are smaller than Bernat Alize Blanket-EZ yarn, so you'll need 80% more skeins to complete your projects as-is. For more information on loop yarn skein sizes and how to calculate how much yarn you'll need for your patterns, read our blog post Loop yarn sizes: How do they compare?
While stores may offer free shipping based on minimum purchase value, they may also have requirements based on specific numbers of items. One of the reasons for this may have to do with packaging dimensions. Yarn is often sent in vacuum-packed bags, so sellers will generally prefer to pack your order in the most efficient way possible based on the requirements of their shipping carrier. Sellers may message you after you complete your order, suggesting your modify your order to include more items so that your order will 'pack better'. As long as they are willing to waive or refund additional shipping costs, you may want to consider this option.
Free shipping doesn't necessarily mean fast shipping, or even tracked shipping! It's important to make note of which carrier your seller is using, whether tracking is included, and what the estimated shipping times are. Sometimes paying for shipping is a much faster and safer option.
Some sellers offer express shipping upgrades. This would be an amount you would pay on top of your purchase to ensure they use their 'express' carrier (typically a courier company with expedited customs clearance capabilities, like DHL or FedEx). This upgrade may be an option at checkout, or may be a separate listing that you need to add to your basket at checkout.
You may be able to combine the upgrade with your free shipping discount (thus only paying for the upgrade), or it might need to be combined with a base shipping cost. This is where speaking directly with your seller becomes crucial, unless their store's description or listings have very clear instructions for you to follow.
Communicating with the seller
Because you may be speaking with sellers whose first language is different than your own, it's best to try to keep your messages and requests clear and without too much extraneous information. (This is a good tip even if there aren't any language barriers!) Keep your questions clear and concise. Some examples of questions you might ask are:
- Do you offer free shipping?
- Do you offer discounts if I buy multiple items?
- What shipping carrier do you use?
- Do you offer express shipping?
Asking followup questions to make sure you understand the correct purchase process to get any discounts is appropriate. If the seller doesn't offer any discounts, or you cannot come to an agreement on price to your satisfaction, move on to another seller rather than argue over price.
Tips for completing your order
It's especially important with international orders that your contact and address information is correct. You may certainly use the guest checkout option, but registering for an Etsy account gives you more options for tracking your purchase history. Your purchase confirmation and tracking numbers will be sent to your email so be sure it is correct before checking out! Double-check that your mailing address includes any unit numbers.
Secondly, when you are on the checkout screen, you will see a box with an option to add a note to the seller - this is a good spot to add your phone number for the seller to add to the shipping label. This allows the shipping carrier to contact you with shipping updates. Other types of instructions you may want to add here are things like "Ship with order #XXXX" if you have multiple orders, or "Please all same dye lot".
Finally, when you have the opportunity to review the seller, be sure to return the favour and add lots of detail for other buyers about your experience!
And that's it! I hope this has helped you feel ready to dive into the world of buying from international Etsy sellers. If you have tips that you have found useful, please feel free to add them in the comments.
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