Home > Focus on Japan 2014 > The Risk of Using Amazon Third-Party Sellers (Or, “Beauty GardenSG” Sucks)

The Risk of Using Amazon Third-Party Sellers (Or, “Beauty GardenSG” Sucks)

March 1st, 2014
At the beginning of February, I decided that I wanted to get some sunflower seeds. Not the kind where it's just kernels, but the kind roasted and salted in the shell. Yum. However, you can't get those in Japan. Even the kernels are rare to find (though they can be ordered). But seeds in the shell? That's considered bird food here. You have to order the roasted & salted in the shell type from overseas. Normally, I would use the Foreign Buyer's Club. They offer a box of twenty-four 1.75 oz. bags for ¥2,485. Unfortunately, they charge ¥990 for shipping and customs, and if I haven't ordered from them for a while, add another ¥1,000 for the membership fee. Even without the membership cost, the total for a box is ¥3,475, or ¥145 per bag. If I order three boxes, that's cheaper—the shipping is the same, so the total would be ¥8,445, or ¥117 per bag. The problem: they take more than a month to deliver. FBC quotes a delivery time frame of 39-43 days (if you place the order on the right day). I didn't want to wait that long. So I went to Amazon, where I had ordered successfully before. The problem was that the seller I had used before, something called “LA Celeb Style” (um, okay) no longer offered the item. Instead, it was only available through “Beauty GardenSG.” I didn't care about the name, really. But they offered a 60-pack bucket for a total of ¥8,000. Not a great price point—133 per bag—but they promised a delivery within 17-25 days. That, to me, was worth the extra ¥16 per bag. So I ordered. Two weeks later, I get a cryptic email from the seller, claiming some sort of unspecified delay. Two days after that, they email me again: they cannot get the item for me, but will ship three of the 24-count boxes at the same price. OK, I think, that brings the price down to even a little under FBC. But then I read on: it will require another 2-3 weeks shipping. Needless to say, I was kind of pissed. The time frame was the only reason I ordered from them. Had they told me straight off that they could not deliver the item, I would have been fine with that. But wait two weeks and a bit, when the order was supposed to be delivered already, and then say you can't deliver? Like I said, that pissed me off. The problem is, these people can more or less abuse you at will. I complained to Amazon, and their policy turns out to be: too bad. They will do nothing at all. You go with third-party sellers at your risk. So I contact the seller and say that I am very disappointed, but go ahead and ship the item. Two days after that, they email back: we canceled your order. Needless to say, I was way more pissed. Hold me back a full three weeks and then cancel my order on me? Most likely, they did that because they could see I was upset and knew that if they canceled the order, it would cut off any easy way to give them a bad seller review. Fortunately, by doing some research, I was able to find a way to bring up the canceled order and navigate to a page where I could enter a review and a seller rating. Nevertheless, it was three weeks after my order and I was back to square one. Fortunately, I found an alternative: The Flying Pig. They're a firm a little similar to Foreign Buyer's Club, but are Costco-centric. That is, they will go to a Costco in Japan and buy stuff you want and ship it to you. The cost is higher than going to Costco yourself, and with a Costco not too far from me, I never used them before. Some items, however, they will ship from Hawaii, as “Personal Imports.” I didn't use that before because the shipping per item is almost ¥2,000. However, if you order five items or more, the shipping becomes free. In addition, they had a different item I have been longing to get (boneless & skinless flaked salmon, great for a salmon casserole dish I like to make). If I ordered the three boxes of sunflower seeds with the other items, the total for the seeds would be ¥8,694, or about ¥120 per bag. But their shipping is great: five to eight days. I ordered them last Tuesday, and the takkyubin guy is delivering them in the next hour or so. Excellent. Had the Amazon seller not canceled, I would still be waiting another week or two for them to deliver. Needless to say, not all Amazon third-party sellers are such slimeballs. But you take your chances.

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  1. Troy
    March 1st, 2014 at 15:38 | #1

    heh, I’d already found the David seeds on Flying Pig before I got to that part of your post . . .

    http://www.theflyingpig.com/tfp/list.asp?SC=315&PR=4708&LN=1&SS=seeds&sid=95E63DC600393B70B29E

    $1.16 a 1.75oz bag, not too bad ($0.66/oz).

    http://www2.costco.com/Browse/Product.aspx?Prodid=11340738&whse=BD_563&Ne=4000000&eCat=BD_563%7C11119%7C75725&N=4047528&Mo=36&No=8&Nr=P_CatalogName:BD_563&cat=75725&Ns=P_Price%7C1%7C%7CP_SignDesc1&lang=en-US&Sp=C&topnav=national

    has them for 20c an ounce tho . . .

    Insured airmail on a 40lb box via USPS Priority Mail International is ~$140, so mailing cost is $3.50/lb or another 20c an ounce.

    Sucks that mailing the damn thing costs as much as the product, and you can’t get much lighter than sunflower seeds! (may I suggest shelled seeds, LOL)

    I’ve long dreamed about starting my own import biz in Japan, as I’ve no doubt spammed here before.

    But it’d be really hard to outcompete FBC and FP. Int’l shipping is not a trivial thing to set up as a business. And to ship one 40′ container of stuff takes $200,000+ in capital!

    http://www.sefco-export.com/rate_guides/pwc-yokohamasea.htm

    Has 300 cf of freight costing ~$2000 to ship via container — 300cf is the space of 75 good-size (18″ x 18″ x 20″) boxes, which works out to $26/box to get from LA to Yokohama, then another $20 or so for the takkyubin people to complete the delivery.

    ~$50 per 40lb box is much more viable than $150 via USPS at least.

    It’s also possible to go “full container load”, which runs around $3000 for a 40′er I guess. (40′ can hold ~500 of these boxes, $6/box).

    But the per-box business model is for the birds. The best business model would be to bulk import the popular stuff (top ~200 items) and maintain stock in Japan to ship out of, basically directly competing with Costco and National Azabu.

    Making a list of the ~200 items to carry would be fun! Be cool to have a small retail space in Tokyo to run like a catalog store or something, with free samples of the merchandise.

    But to start this up would no doubt take a million bucks of capital. Not sure what the profit margin would have to be to support such an operation. Getting orders from more than expats would probably be safer.

    Plus if the yen goes to ¥150 as it might (who knows!) it would make an import biz pretty tough!

  2. Troy
    March 1st, 2014 at 15:46 | #2

    Tim Cook sure squared off on a shithead from a right-wing front group at the shareholders meeting.

    http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/tim-cook-soundly-rejects-politics-of-the-ncppr-suggests-group-sell-apples-s

    god I hate Republicans.

    I also wish Apple had some competition, LOL. It’s not that their stuff is too expensive, but they sure make a ton of money on it!

  3. kensensei
    March 2nd, 2014 at 16:08 | #3

    Luis,
    I had heard of Flying Pig before, when I was living in Shanghai (there are no Costcos in China). I found some items of interest on their website, but unfortunately, they did not deliver to China.

    I read your previous post about the crazy traffic you encounter every time you visit your local Costco in Japan. Have they rectified the situation? Rather than shipping your order, wouldn’t you save money by just driving to Costco yourself?

    –kensensei

  4. Luis
    March 2nd, 2014 at 17:54 | #4

    Ken:

    Alas, I don’t think the traffic will ever be fixed there. Japan has idiots running the traffic lights. For example, lights are commonly timed so that traffic from the previous light, traveling at just above the speed limit, arrives at the next light just as it goes red. You see that all the time here. Once in Inagi I watched them build a brand-new multi-lane thoroughfare through the center of town, presumably because traffic was hideous on the tiny side roads. Once opened, they lined the street with half a dozen traffic lights–EACH ONE timed to go red immediately after the previous ones. All of them, staggered. It took longer than the tiny, jammed side roads to get through it–as if the people who set the lights specifically tried to find the best way to slow traffic to a crawl and create massive backups. On a road that passed right in front of City Hall, as if they did it so they could sit back and laugh.

    The most damaging situation is also the easiest to fix, but they never fix it. It’s when you have a busy four-way intersection, usually one street will have massive traffic both ways. Either at the intersection or just before these roads are one lane only. The problem comes when cars going one way want to cross against traffic; since there is a steady stream going the other way, they can only move when there is a turn light–and the turn light is timed for a ridiculously short time, like (literally) five seconds. Just one or two cars get through. Since there is only one lane, the entire stream of traffic essentially gets through only the slightest trickle at a time. This jams up more traffic down the line, leading to a chain reaction that snarls the entire area.

    In almost all of these situations, a dead-simple change in the lights’ timing (5 seconds to 30 second for the turn) would tremendously reduce the traffic congestion–but they never do that. It is the most bizarre and most frustrating feature of Japanese traffic planning I have seen–and it is very common. Between my home and Costco there are 3 or 4 such bottlenecks. It’s just 12 miles away, but takes over an hour to get there even in normal traffic. On a bad day, forget it.

    On weekends, especially in good weather, the entire area around Costco becomes a virtual parking lot, in part because of these bottlenecks, but also in part because of the parking (the Costco is next to an outlet mall with pathetic parking, most people use Costco’s lot). That’s why Sachi and I only go on weekdays; usually on Mondays we can get in the parking lot with minimal hassle. It’s still parked up to the gills, but at least traffic in and out is not horrendous.

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