• SA members-only online shop AllSale launched in September with the promise of deep discounts on various items. 
  • The one catch: shoppers need to pay a R99 monthly membership fee up front, and a minimum of R59 shipping.
  • Business Insider tested AllSale to see how it works. 
  • For more stories go to 

South African members-only online shop AllSale launched in September with the promise of deep discounts on various items,  mainly luxuries like perfumes and fashion, but also bulk household and food products. 

The one catch: shoppers need to pay a R99 monthly membership fee up front, and a minimum of R59 shipping, unless they spend more than R800 and keep the package under 8 kilograms. 

The other catch: the products are grey imports direct from the United States and Europe, and may take as long one month to arrive. 

The discounts, though, are impressive - but unless you’re catering for a massive function or run a corner store, or splurging regularly on fragrances, watches and sunglasses, they may be eroded by the monthly membership fee and shipping costs.

Fee-based members-only stores like this are not a new concept - at least in international markets. In the United States, the likes of Costco and Sam’s Club have legions of loyal fans. 

Locally, Makro follows a similar members-only shopping concept, offering discounts on bulk items to card carrying members. However, unlike AllSale, Marko membership is free - and stores hold stock which is available immediately.

AllSale says the flat membership fee is there to reduce the product markups that traditional stores often pass on to shoppers via individual items. And with two procurement models - one for fast moving consumer goods, and the other for luxuries - they claim that they’ll be able to satisfy online shoppers’ needs.

Here's everything we found in Allsale's fine print that may help you decide whether its model is for you.

  • Membership fee gets you the ability to buy stuff, and that's it.
  • Before you can shop with AllSale you must pay a monthly membership fee.
  • This costs R99 per month on their month-to-month option. You can also purchase a three month membership at R269, or a six month membership at R469.

There are no significant benefits to this membership, aside from being allowed to purchase items advertised in the online store. 

AllSale says this membership fee is simply to help them offer the discounts that they do.

Here's how AllSale works: 

Parallel imports mean no manufacturer warranty.

AllSale claims to offer a “massive selection of international brands”. Although they do sell a variety of international brands – some of which aren’t widely available in South Africa – they are doing so without approval from the trademark holders. 

Bypassing the formal import channels can save money, and is legal under South African law, but means the brands involved have no obligation to offer any warranty on faulty products.

Instead, AllSale has to offer their own support programme, which CEO Michelle Lehrer told Business Insider South Africa is “very generous returns policy”. 

According to their terms and conditions, they offer a six month returns policy on defective items, and they offer to extend this in instances where the brands officially offer longer warranties.

This means that if your R12,000 Tory Burch shoulder bag is defective, you’ll need to deal directly with AllSale’s support staff. Should AllSale rejects your claim, or happens to go under in the next six months, you’ll be left with a dud purchase and no support.

Shipping can be complicated, and take a while.

Importing products outside official channels also complicates the shipping processes for some products.

Items marked “ready to ship”, usually fast moving consumer goods like food, nappies and detergents, take three to five days to arrive at your door.

Other products will be coming from further afield, and may take as long as 20 business days to arrive.

AllSale says import delays and other complications can push this out even further: “Whilst we aim to get your order to you within 15 to 20 business days, this can get delayed.”

AllSale says these long lead items arrive via their “second procurement model”, a key part of their intellectual property, which in essence is an aggregation tool that taps into suppliers or other online stores around the world.

Members must also pay a minimum delivery fee of R59.

They do offer free delivery, but only for “standard sized packages” when you spend over R800. If that package weighs over 8 kilograms – a likely occurrence if you’re buying 7 litres of bleach, half a dozen jars of instant coffee, and two month’s supply of nappies – you’ll need to fork up to have it arrive at your door.

If you live in Johannesburg, though, you can pick up items from their warehouse at no cost.

The 'discounts' are not guaranteed accurate.

Like other online retailers and deal sites in South Africa, AllSale advertises large percentage discounts alongside the selling prices. Each product includes a crossed out “retail price”, their official selling price, and a percentage discount they are claiming to offer - in a marketing move designed to showcase how great the deal apparently is.

But according to AllSale’s terms and conditions, the percentage discount they advertise is not always accurate. Instead, it represents a price for “the same or similar item” and should only be used as an estimate for how much shoppers may save.

According to the fine print, “the slash-through price may not always represent the prevailing price in a specific country, location or at a specific time”.

In South Africa, online stores are, essentially, at liberty to make up their own recommended retail prices. And many stores, including OneDayOnly and Takelot, use this as a way to exaggerate the discount offered to entice shoppers to make the purchase.

Even so, in most instances we checked, AllSale did in fact represent original retail prices that were accurate compared to other local retailers – aside from a drastically overstated deal on razorblades. 

In that case, when we originally checked, AllSale was selling 16 Gillette Mach 3 razor blades for R359 - at what they claimed was a 51% discount from a supposed retail price of R729. Makro, however, was selling 16 Gillette Mach 3 blades for R395. The discount, before taking into account AllSale’s membership fees, is therefore 9%.

When we checked back later, AllSale had hiked up its claimed normal retail price for those razor blades to R1,999, and now said it would save you 82%. Makro's price had also changed – to just under R500.

“We hired a team to manually search the internet for all comparable products, and also hired a data mining firm to do the same work,” says Lehrer.

You can lose out on the membership fee, depending on what you buy.

Membership-only stores often hide their markups in the membership fees. This can be true of AllSale, depending on what you buy.

Direct comparisons are often difficult, because some of the products AllSale sells is not available in similar bulk quantities elsewhere in South Africa. 

Where we could find direct comparisons, though, whether you would turn a profit on that R99 per month fee would depend on exactly what you bought.

On one box of jumbo nappies, or a back of batteries, or a pair of running shoes, AllSale would save you a pretty consistent R30 over other local retailers, so you would need to buy more than three boxes of nappies – or pairs of running shoes – to start seeing a benefit. 

In one instance we also found a pair of jeans that would actually cost you more via AllSale than if you bought it at more traditional online retailers.

In other cases, the saving on a single product could more than cover the membership cost – and buying perfume would often offer those kinds of savings. 

All things considered, try before you buy.

On a deal-for-deal basis, it’s clear that AllSale’s products are usually the same price or cheaper than most local retailers - but this doesn’t take into account the membership and shipping costs.

It also doesn’t take into account other crucial caveats - like extended shipping times, limited stock and sizes, and a lack of official warranties.

If you can live with these, then the cheap deals on large quantities of items like bleach, nappies, junk food and batteries will be attractive for bulk buying bargain hunters. 

But unless you’re catering for an office party, reselling the items, or form a buying club with friends and family, these aren’t likely to be monthly purchases. Nor will the other products like perfumes, luggage, watches and sunglasses.

A considered once-off bulk purchase will yield some discounts, but the flat shipping and membership fees will quickly erode the discounts. In some cases, particularly on the most useful items, individual product discounts are not equal to more than the monthly R99 membership. 

And with the focus on bulk supplies and occasional high-end luxuries, it seems far more viable to use the store for an annual shop rather than as a monthly go-to.

Lehrer says that they are still growing out their stock, with a focus is on providing regular essentials. “Our key merchandise categories will be for items that make up the weekly or monthly basket of a typical family,” she told Business Insider South Africa, “With the membership fee easily offset against savings achieved.”

In the meanwhile, we recommend using AllSale with caution, perhaps to stock up once every six months or so, and to see how it fits your individual shopping habits. 

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