Empty cardboard boxes testify to how eagerly the parcels have been awaited. (DF Watch photo.)

TBILISI, DFWatch — There is a small crowd gathered in the hall giving electronic signatures together with ID cards to get the parcel. ‘Parcel from America’, the tagline of the company says.

There are several companies in Tbilisi like this one that offer to ship items to Georgia as a way of bypassing the restrictive shipping policies of many online shops in the US.

Nini, 26, is in the row waiting for her turn to show her ID card and get those awesome high-heels that she has bought on forever21. Nini has to go on wedding next week, she has to be perfect.

“I went through whole shops in Tbilisi Mall and Kidobani, Pekini Ave, nothing for me. If I discover really good clothes and shoes here, they are too expensive, so I prefer to be more patient and wait a bit more for good and cheaper clothes,” she tells us, taking a parcel and carrying to her car to see if they fit.

The problems is that online stores of US or Europe don’t offer to ship items to Georgia, or if the store ships to Georgia, the parcel will often get lost; they never make it to the right address. That’s why several companies were set up to offer special services to Georgian shoppers.

You register on a webpage by providing your Georgian personal number, phone number and some other data, and the company gives you an address in US. Using that address, you can register on different online stores, pay money with your own bank card, and the company will safely ship your items to Georgia.

Despite the long shipping time – at least 10 days and sometimes more than a month – the number of customers increases daily and the competition between the companies increases as well. If you go closer to the offices shipping parcels to Georgia, you will see trash bins full of cartons and paper, in which parcels are usually wrapped. People just cannot wait to see what they’ve been waiting for weeks. They get their package, leave the office and tear the wrapping off right outside the office to see what they bought.

Ana Imnadze, 22, says she doesn’t have time to go through shops in Tbilisi. She thinks online shopping is really comfortable, even though she has to wait weeks to receive her clothes.

“There are no problems for me. I like choosing things online. It is cheap, way more options and I usually get items with no damage,” she says, adding that if she needs some clothes for winter she already prepares in autumn to receive clothes on time. In addition, it is possible to buy clothes for all seasons, while in Tbilisi some shops just remove clothes for summer in winter and vice versa.

The majority of Georgians who shop online usually buy clothes, shoes and accessories. But Levan, 23, only buys musical equipment. If N item costs more than USD 180, a ten percent customs fee applies.

Even though Levan has to pay customs fee and equipment usually weighs much, he says this is still cheap and it is usually not possible to find appropriate musical equipment in Tbilisi. He has a band of four and usually he takes care of supplies for all the band members.

‘Only some ordinary stuff here,’ he says, ‘but if you look for something different, something special, then you have to go online.’

Some people found ways to unofficially do money. They register pages on Facebook, upload pictures of items from different stores, with prices and if a user asks to buy it, the owners buy things for them, but increase price for the service they do. There are pages like ‘H&M in Georgia,’ ‘Jewelry from US’, ‘Everything from UK,’ etc.

But there are not only problems with shipping. Georgia is not on the list of countries which use Paypal, which means that you cannot register on Paypal with Georgian bank or Visa cards. This makes it impossible to buy things on eBay, etsy or any other shops which require paying through Paypal instead of directly from a card.

This has increased competition between companies which offer shipping service. A few days ago, one of the companies added a new service to the company, which offers to buy things from stores which require Paypal, but the client has to pay an additional five dollars for the service.

In order to receive your item in Tbilisi, you first pay for the item and for the shipping to ship it from some store to the US address, then you pay to a Georgian company providing shipping from the US to Georgia, and if the item costs more than USD 180, you also pay for customs.