Brands, Gifting, and the Politics of Import Fees

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Import fees are a grey area for creators. (Credit: Passionfruit)

Everyone knows that there’s a lot more to being an influencer than getting free stuff. But let’s be real for a sec — free stuff is still a pretty cool perk. But what happens when you’re expected to pay for items brands gift you?

The way gift giving usually works is that a brand will send you items, like a new makeup product for free. In exchange for these goods, the brand expects the influencer to give the item a shout-out or review on your social media platforms. The desired effect of this in turn would be followers becoming influenced (get it?) by this promotion and set out to buy said product.

But a process that seems quite simple in theory can end up more complicated when this gifting goes international. And it looks like travel influencer Amanda Rollins learned this the hard way, as she shared her bizarre gifting experience in a new TikTok.

“Let me start by saying as content creators, we typically deal with some things that can be annoying sometimes,” she said. “And it is my belief that you should never badmouth a brand or something online simply because mistakes happen.”

Amanda (@americanfille), a Paris-based influencer, explained how she co-founded a union of English-speaking content creators. Describing the group as her “pride and joy,” Amanda explained to viewers how they all supported each other with brand deals and navigating the creator economy as a whole.

But the issue began after they signed up to be gifted a fragrance that was being shipped from the UK.

“When you import something outside of France into France, there are import fees,” she explained. “But in this particular circumstance, this is a gift. We didn’t buy this.”

So, collectively, the group decided that they wouldn’t pay the $24 import fee, as Amanda emphasized how “you should never pay to receive a package that’s been given to you … because they’re giving it to you hoping that you will talk about their product.”

Amanda then went on to explain how, because of this, none of them actually received the fragrance in the end. But UPS did end up “harassing” her and others to pay the import fee for an item they hadn’t actually received. Recounting her phone call to the parcel agency, Amanda alleged that they tried to tell her that it doesn’t matter if you want or accept the international package — you shouldn’t have to pay for it.

“And I was like, ‘How does that make sense? Because then any … person in the world could send me something without my consent if they had my address, and then I’d have to pay for that.’”

Ultimately, Amanda remained steadfast on not paying the import fee, as she pointed out that the brand “want[s] access to your platform into your audience, and that’s usually something that they should pay for.”

The idea of paying for a gifted item certainly seems antithetical to the point of a ‘gifted’ product, but what commenters found especially striking is the way in which Amanda mobilized the group to take collective action over not paying the import fee.

“More content creators should definitely do this,” one commenter concluded. “We all have more power as a collective voice.” While they might have missed out on the promotion opportunity, it still carries an important lesson for content creators: Find your tribe, stand up for your rights, and don’t be afraid to take collective action.

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