Good Deal Gone Bad

Israeli Online Shoppers Left Empty Handed After Target Overlooks Red Tape

The U.S. retailer offered free shipping from August 18 to 20, but over a week later, only a fraction of the deliveries has arrived

Customers at a Target store in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., May 16, 2016.
Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg

It was supposed to be the deal of the century, or at least the month: The giant U.S. discount retailer Target offered Israeli shoppers free shipping from August 18 to 20. But over a week later, only a fraction of the deliveries have arrived, and local industry sources blame Target for the problem.

“Target promised that customers would pay no shipping costs for their orders and that everything would be covered, but it appears they didn’t do their homework and were surprised by all the Israeli regulations and the low threshold for import-tax exemptions,” said one source in the online sales industry, who asked not to be named.

Sources estimated that Israelis ordered more than 20,000 shipments from Target over the two days of the offer but that at most a few thousand of the deliveries had arrived via shipper DHL. Other shoppers haven’t even yet been notified that their orders have arrived in the country, they said.

Target was tripped up by two factors. One is the Israeli red tape involved in personal imports, which include special approvals for purchases such as food, nutritional supplement and electronic devices, such as smartphones. The other is Israel’s low threshold for tax-free personal imports, which is just $75.

The free-shipping deal covered all products sold by Target, but one source said about half the goods were not a problem in terms of taxes or regulations.

They were either items that can be imported freely, like clothing, shoes and small items, and/or were under the $75 threshold. Those items, he said, would likely reach buyers shortly.

The rest would be notified about their staus by Target’s website, which had initially been overwhelmed by Israeli shoppers, as to the status of their order.

Dana, a Tel Aviv resident who asked not to use her full name, said she placed two orders during the Target sale and has yet to see them.

“One was for clothing and cosmetics and the second was for packaged food, things you can’t get in Israel like Oreo cookies in special flavors,” she said.

“I didn’t exceed the $75 limit and I didn’t get any warning from the site about shipping problems even though I ordered food. I assumed everything was all right but in the meantime a friend who ordered even simpler things received her order and I haven’t gotten anything.”

Target, the second-largest U.S. retailer, with 1,800 stores, declined to respond for this report.

DHL acknowledged the problem and promised that the great majority of outstanding orders would be delivered within a day or two.