Online Shopping in Portugal

Shopping online in Portugal is not as “one click” as it is in the United States. On the other hand, your packages won’t get stolen.

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Online Shopping in Portugal
Years ago, a friend of mine here once said to me that he didn’t think online shopping was ever going to take off in Portugal.  He seemed to believe that the Portuguese culture and temperament were fundamentally incompatible with the whole enterprise of e-commerce.  Ever the American optimist for whom every problem has a solution, I pooh-poohed this observation.  The speed! The convenience! How can Portugal not get on board with online shopping?
I get it now.
Compared to the United States, buying things online for delivery in Portugal is twice as secure, but half as convenient. And I’m talking about Continental Portugal here; shipping to the islands is a whole other story.  As a consequence, I buy substantially less online than I did back in the US.  This saves me from the Amazon Prime pitfall of “sure, I’ll buy 17 different versions of this $0.50 thingamajig because I can’t tell if any of them will work, and it will be here in 2 hours, and I’ll *for sure* go through the hassle of trying to return the ones that don’t work instead of burying them in a drawer for all eternity.”  But it also means shopping is more time-consuming because I either have to physically go to the store, or buy online and cross my fingers on when it will arrive.
Granted, sometimes the selection is still better online, so I haven’t abandoned online shopping in Portugal permanently.  I just online shop more selectively.  Here are four things to keep in mind in case you decide to take the plunge.

E-Commerce Is Not Big in Portugal

Among the top 10 countries where consumers make a lot of their retail purchases online, Portugal doesn’t even make a showing.  Canada, a country with an economy about 10 times as large as Portugal’s, rounds out the list at number 10 with only 13.6% of shopping done online.  We would expect, then, that Portugal is likely in the single digits.  This will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever been to a Portuguese mall at Christmas.
E-Commerce By Share of Total Retail Sales, 2022
Data Source: eMarketer
Online shopping from large, international chains is as feasible here as it is in the United States, but small businesses in Portugal – and even some that aren’t particularly small and have no excuse – often have pretty rudimentary websites.  This sometimes means they only show inventory but you still have to go to the store to make the purchase.  Or you might be able to make a purchase but it’s not exactly a confidence-inspiring process when you have to refresh the page three times.
Something to note: Amazon does not operate in Portugal.  You can still buy from Amazon Spain, Amazon Germany, or, if you want to risk post-Brexit customs uncertainty, Amazon UK, but the selection is smaller than Amazon US and you won’t be getting any drones to drop off your purchases 36 minutes after you order them.

Online Retailers Do Not Usually Tell You When You Can Expect Delivery of Your Purchase

Will your package arrive next week or next month? Who knows! In Portugal, retailers typically will not indicate anything at time of purchase as to the expected delivery.  This is particularly true of smaller retailers only selling in the national market, but it’s broadly true for sellers outside of Portugal shipping here as well.
Presumably, this is because of uncertainty about the logistics.  Most retailers do not have their own dedicated fleet of trucks, so they outsource delivery to one of the **many** delivery companies operating in Portugal and throughout Europe:  DHL, DPD, MRW, and the national postal service, CTT, among others.  It’s an acronym soup.  (UPS and FedEx offer limited services in Portugal, primarily for receiving packages sent from the United States.  UPS has pick-up locations located in convenience stores and other types of small retailers throughout Portugal, but FedEx does not.)  Since the Portuguese absolutely detest giving bad news, especially in written form (i.e., expected delivery in terms of weeks instead of days) they’d rather give no news instead.  I can’t say for certain why online retailers work with one delivery company over another, but I know what it means on the receiving end: it’s not easy to predict when your purchase will arrive. 
To make this a little more concrete: I bought a couch online that showed, surprisingly, an expected delivery of approximately two weeks.  Perfect, I thought.  The floors were being refinished and it would give them plenty of time to dry.  When the delivery company called me two days later to schedule delivery that day, the couch ended up having to be sent back to the warehouse and those two weeks became four.
Even though you almost always have to give a cell number when you place an order – and a lot of times, stores will text you a code to enter to see if the cell number is legit – you will sometimes receive a call from the delivery driver if you do not answer the door on the day of delivery, but often enough you will not.  You’ll probably (but, again, not always) get a text message the day before saying the delivery will be made the next day, but the time window they’ll typically give you is basically all day, from 9 AM until 6 PM.  Unless you are regularly receiving deliveries from one company in particular, you probably won’t be able to work with a mental rule of thumb about scheduling, a la “UPS usually comes later in the day so I’ll just plan to stick around in the afternoons.”  Many are the times I’ve stayed home waiting for a delivery only to miss it because I was in the bathroom when they arrived and they didn’t call me.
In my experience, the best online shopping sites in Portugal are the grocery store chain Continente and Ikea Portugal.  This is exclusively because both stores let you select a two- to four-hour delivery window on a particular day before you place your order.  And they stick to it.  Except when things that show as available for purchase online turn out to be out of stock, a not uncommon occurrence.  But the delivery?  Beautiful.

Deliveries Will Not Be Left Unattended at Your Doorstep

The stories of Americans trying to nab package thieves with Ring security cameras are legion. Not so in Portugal.
Delivery drivers do not leave packages outside the door unattended.  If you cannot be there to open the door and accept the package – or a neighbor can’t do this for you, or if it’s too big to slide into your mailbox – drivers will not deliver it.  I’ve unsuccessfully searched around to see if this is a law or just a custom but given the number of complaints I’ve seen online about delivery drivers supposedly leaving packages when the addressee wasn’t home (this has never happened to me personally) I gather that the Portuguese prefer it this way.
Now, you might think to yourself, well, I’ll just pay extra to have it overnighted and then I’ll for sure when it will arrive.  Wrong.  This option does not exist for most retailers. 
Or you might think to yourself, well, I’ll have it delivered to the store and I’ll just pick it up there.  Wrong.  This option does not exist for most retailers besides international chain stores. 
If you are not home on the day/time your package delivers, the most likely scenario is that you will get a message telling you to pick it up from a depot.  But.

Picking Up a Package Is…Not Fun

Was it DHL or DPD that delivered when I wasn’t home?  Do I pick up from the MRW depot on Rua 25 de Abril or the one on Rua Guerra Junqueiro? Is there going to be anywhere to park or will I be forced into some flagrantly illegal double parking maneuver and crossing my fingers?  These are just a few of the questions you will have to ask yourself if you need to pick up a package after a delivery attempt was made.
Far and away the worst place to have to pick up a package is at a CTT store, the national postal service.  I have never gotten out of there in less than 20 minutes because someone is mailing 674 pieces of mail that all need to be individually stamped, or someone is shipping an irregular package in the shape of a giraffe and it requires a three-person tag team to process.  The last time I went to pick up a package at CTT after waiting in an humungous line for 45 minutes, the conversation went something like this:
Me: “This text message right here on my phone [shows phone to cashier] says my package will be available for pickup for two more days.”
Cashier: “The package arrived ten days ago and was sent back to the shipper.”
Me: “But this text message right here on my phone [shows phone to cashier] says my package will be available for pickup for two more days.”
Cashier: “The package arrived ten days ago and was sent back to the shipper.”
Summing up, I still do a fair amount of online shopping in Portugal but not anything crucial.  Buyers beware!  Meanwhile, I’ll keep waiting for the hooks I bought to hang the kids’ Christmas stockings over the fireplace that never arrived last year. 
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