I've been asked whether reviews would be a regular segment in these updates. Keep watching this spot, friends. In the meantime, I have a different type of review you should read this week.
Adventures in Middle Man Fees
How I Learned Not To Use Rinkya
It's probably no small surprise that, as the author and artist of a comic called Nerd Rage, I have an assortment of trinkets, collectables, and children's-play-things from Japan. I'm no a stranger to importing. What follows is my experience with proxy service Rinkya and why I will not be using them again.
I will preface this by saying I had previously heard good things about Rinkya. These kind remarks were said years ago, though, so maybe the service has changed. Or maybe I'm unlucky! Or maybe I have far-too-high standards. Some will tell me it's my own fault; after you bid, you are at the mercy of your proxy service's rules. I'll let the reader decide. If you are interested in importing from Yahoo Japan Auctions or a Japanese online retailer, here are some alternatives::
To start, let me explain what a proxy service is and why you need it. A proxy service buys items in Japan on your behalf, boxes them up, and ships them to you. You can't buy directly from most Japanese online stores or Yahoo Japan Auction because online transactions are different in Japan. Most prefer payment through bank transfer, and even if you could get around that, most aren't terribly keen on shipping out of the country. Your proxy handles the foreign transactions and the Japanese address it ships to before ending up on your doorstep.
Now that that's out of the way, I can go on to the specifics. My first major complaint with Rinkya:
The pricing structure is murky.
Every item you bid on will have an additional $15 fee. This is a flat fee for shipping, handling, bank fees, etc. but they're sure to tell you if the shipping ends up too expensive you'll get an extra charge. If it ends up cheaper, it doesn't matter because they're pocketing the rest. This shipping fee is only for shipping in Japan. Remember this.
1. Same seller, same day Handling fee combination.
2. $7 COMMISSION up to 10,000yen, $1 per 1000yen after!(FOR CELS ONLY)
3. FREE FOR ALL ITEMS 1,000 YEN AND UNDER!
4. $40 FLAT FEE ON ALL ITEMS BETWEEN 40,000 to 100,000 YEN!
5. $60 DISCOUNT ON ALL ITEMS OVER 100,000 YEN!
(*based on each individual auction).
$15 base fee plus
$1 per 1000yen up to closing price.
The actual commission is the greater of the above or $20
$1 per 1000 yen doesn't sound bad, does it? Reread it carefully. Items under 1000 yen have no commission fee. Items over 1000 yen have an automatic $20 tacked on. Forget the $15 base fee, it is very misleading. The pricing structure should actually read something like:
1000yen items = $0
1001 – 6000yen = $20
6000yen and up = $20 + $1 for every 1000yen
In short if you buy a 1001 yen item ($12.80 USD at the current exchange rate), you will receive a $20 commission fee on top of the $15 Japanese shipping/bank fee and whatever the cost is to ship to your country. For whatever reason, if you buy a 10,000 yen item ($127.82) you'll pay $25. So you pay a 19.56% commission on expensive items and a 156.25% commission on a cheap one.
The cheapest item you can buy without free commission would cost you $47.62 before international shipping.
Of course, my numbers are using the current exchange rate (Google says $1 = 78.23 yen). Rinkya uses their own rate, which has been cemented at 77 yen to the dollar since May. On the 28th of July it dropped to 76.
Now, there is another issue. Rinkya does hold your items for a certain amount of time. The FAQ says:
"Rinkya ships per your request so that you may combine shipping on items. We can hold items for up to a one month period (with the exception of large items like car parts) before shipping is required. If you sent a ship request in and your item status has not updated to shipped within a week, please contact our helpdesk."
So a one month holding period before it must be shipped. Not bad, I thought while skimming through the FAQ. They also charge a 25% handling fee, says the next question in the FAQ. Wait, what? Didn't you guys make extra on my internal shipping?
I can't find it on the site, but the 1 month rule is actually wrong. The email they send says two months (and if you search for reviews, you'll see the same). Now, I attempted to place a shipment order at the end of my holding period. Rinkya says they never received this. I can't fairly prove whether this was their website problems or a connection problem on my end. But after waiting for a response, my time was up, they boxed up everything (not just the oldest item -- all of it) and attempted to autoprocess it with a ridiculous $36 Fedex shipping.
Who ships from Japan with Fedex? It's too expensive to be practical, and not fast enough for the price you pay. Maybe the company picks an expensive shipping method because they care about getting it to you securely. It's not like they have anything to gain from charging for more expensive ship -- ohhhh.
After some communication with Rinkya, I managed to get the shipping down to a still-ridiculous $24 Registered SAL. $24 for the cheapest registered shipping on a 1kg package. No, it doesn't make sense to me either.
As I mentioned above, their website had some problems during the last week or two of my order's holding period. Pages wouldn't load. Or wouldn't load correctly. Their contact form had broken image links where CAPTCHAs should be. After fixing this problem, and receiving a response from their support team, the emails noted not to reply via email and instead use one of two links provided at the bottom of the message. Yet both links were broken.
Don't get me wrong, placing an order via proxy will never be a cheap endeavor; one item makes a lot of stops and everyone involved wants a cut. Times are tough and I'm sure iinternational orders are down with a strong yen and a weak dollar. These niche export retailers are hurting. Rinkya worked hard to squeeze every dollar they could out of me, and have lost a returning customer in the process. I am extremely dissatisfied with my experience, and won't be using Rinkya again.
I posted them above, but if you want to use a middle-man service, try Yokatta or Celga.