Today I wanted to let you in on a secret… I purchased my brand new Max Mara Manuela Icon Coat for 40% off the Canadian retail price. It was shipped directly to me via DHL, duty paid, from Italy.
When I was researching Max Mara, I had the realization that the products are significantly cheaper in Europe compared to North America. The Manuela coat retails for C$3,490 (plus tax) in Canada but only EURO 1,400 in Italy, plus you get a nice 18%-ish percent VAT refund too, so the coat ends up being just approximately C$1,700. Of course you may pay duty upon entering into Canada, but sometimes you get lucky and just get waved through by the customs agent. Of course, the smart thing to do was to wait until I had plans to go to Italy to make my purchase, but we have no plans to go back to Italy since I was just there last summer. I also wasn’t going to plan a trip just so I can buy this coat since that just made no sense.
Luckily for me and my awesome internet research skills, I stumbled across a site called Italist. This company is based in LA but they work with stores and boutiques in Italy to bring you products at Italian-local prices, VAT-free, shipped directly to your house anywhere on the planet for free.
Shopping on the Italist is very confusing. It is not for the faint of heart or for someone who wants an easy shopping experience. You place your order online, then they will confirm stock with their boutique partner, and if the item is in stock, the boutique partner will ship it out within the next day. Since the stock listed on their website isn’t theirs, stock isn’t guaranteed and your order is only confirmed if the boutique partner confirms it. I messaged Italist on Instagram and they said one out of every 200 orders is cancelled due to lack of stock, since their inventory system refreshes every hour.
In addition, because product information is provided by the boutiques, sometimes it is very vague and you don’t get all of the details. You really have to know your brand, research the product you want, before making your order on the Italist. For example, when I found my Manuela coat on the site (screenshot below), the item wasn’t even labelled as the Manuela coat – it actually made zero reference to the word “Manuela”‘ and was just called the Tie Waist Coat. However I was familiar with the description of the coat and various details that make it the Manuela coat, so I knew it was that exact coat. I also confirmed my knowledge by comparing the the photos of the coat on the website with stock photos on the Max Mara website, and with my own photos I took when I tried the coat on in store.
The listing of the coat I bought was taken off once my purchase went through (there was only one available from that particular boutique so once inventory was sold, the listing was removed), but the current listing for the Manuela coat is available here and just calls it the “Max Mara Coat.”
Also, you might see multiple listings of the same product, making it even more confusing to the shopper. This is because there are multiple boutique partners selling the same style. If you are looking for a particular size and one boutique partner doesn’t have it, just search for the style in their search bar and you will likely see another boutique partner offering it in your size.
Since it was my first time ordering, I took screenshots of the product page so I can compare the end product that I received with what was listed on the website. This is just me being overcautious, but also it was for good reason. Italist does not accept free returns. I know that being in North America, we are used to free shipping and returns as that is just the nature of retail here, but in Europe, a lot of places do not accept returns, especially smaller boutiques. Since Italist offers low prices for products based in Italy, free express DHL shipping on a duty paid basis, returns are a hassle. You have to pay for the shipping back to Italy, and because it has to go through customs again, it is a huge hassle to get the customs refund and your ultimate refund for the product. This is another reason why I suggest doing a lot of research outside of Italist before you make an order. I would essentially treat each order as final sale.
Before you buy, definitely read up on their “How to Shop” guide, which has everything you need to know to shop there.
Now why would anyone go through that trouble and such inconvenience? Because you get huge price savings. Like I said before, the Manuela coat costs C$3,908 in Canada with tax. I paid C$2,300 for mine in the classic camel colour. This is the tax in, with free shipping, the all in cost. If I had travelled to Italy, bought the coat, got the VAT refund, paid duty upon entering Canada, my end cost for the coat would be about the same as what I paid on Italist. Plus I saved all of the travel costs and the hassle of bringing a giant coat back in my luggage.
Let’s look at another example of a Max Mara Icon Coat – the 101801 “Madame” coat retails for C$4,650 (plus tax) in Canada. On the Italist, you can purchase the same coat for US$1,550-$1,800 (plus import duty). After converting this to Canadian dollars, it’s about C$2,400 before import duty, which is usually about 20% of the base value of the product. Essentially you save almost half the Canadian price.
I only researched Max Mara on Italist, but from reading the Italist thread at Purseforum, people have purchased other brands from there. Most of them were successful and very happy with their purchase, but there were a few people who had minor issues and had to work out a return with the company.
In addition to the Italist, there is also the Clutcher, which is a similar concept shopping site, as well as Elsa Boutique, which is a boutique based in Italy that ships to countries around the world. I was considering ordering from these but in the end the Italist had the style I wanted at the right price so I shopped with them. I haven’t ordered from the Clutcher or Elsa Boutique so I strongly suggest doing your own research before placing an order as there is always some level of risk when you order from a website that ships products from overseas.
I’m always a strong advocate for smart shopping. I love buying designer products but if you do it in a savvy way, you can find incredible deals, leaving you more money in the bank for savings (or to buy other things).
Hope this was helpful! Also, I don’t use affiliate links so none of the links here give me any kind of commission if you click on the links.