A Look at HobbyLink Japan's Private Warehouse
Over the last few years, we've been maintaining a help guide for hobby shopping online. It is a list of lessons learned on dealing with online commerce (ecommerce) and some pitfalls to avoid. More recently, I've wanted to examine some specific online hobby shops, how well they work and their advantages/disadvantages over other online stores. In this installment, I want to look at HobbyLink Japan's Private Warehouse system.
HobbyLink Japan has maintained an online hobby retail presence for many years now and is a very reliable retailer. In HLJ's recent overhaul of their online store, you can see when items are in-stock, running low, or on backorder, and purchasing and checkout are intuitive. They have one other interesting feature in their system, near-real-time currency conversion. Why is this important? If you've been purchasing your Tamiya, Hasegawa, Platz, Fine Molds, etc., kits from local retailers, you know that retail prices are quick to go up as the dollar (or whatever your currency) falls against the Japanese Yen, but rarely do these prices go back down again when the exchange rates go the other direction. When you shop at HLJ, you'll see the Japanese Yen price, but it also displays the US Dollar (and other currencies) based on the currency exchange rate at that time. You can buy your Japanese kits at Japanese prices and avoid some of the mark-ups that happen from importers, duty, and older exchange rates.
So when is it a good deal to shop with HLJ? Comparison shop. If there is a particular kit or kits you are looking for, see how much they'd run from local retailers, online retailers in your country, and from HLJ. If the exchange rate is favorable, HLJ's prices should be pleasantly lower. You do need to factor in the cost of shipping. EMS shipping might run 3-4 times more than the equivalent UPS or FEDEX shipping, but if the savings are there from a good exchange rate, you will still be ahead of the game. There are some items that are available on HLJ that aren't available over here. In that instance, the choice is obvious. A recent order that I placed with HLJ arrived via EMS in just a few days to northeast Indiana. Not bad!
Back to the Private Warehouse – as I discussed in my Hobby Shopping article, many online retailers do not backorder products and will ship you what they do have. This leaves you to find out what really is available when the package arrives. Other retailers will backorder any out of stock items, but will hold up your available items until everything is in stock. I watched this scenario play out with another online retailer that indicated everything I wanted was in stock, but when my order was processed, one item was missing and everything else was placed on hold. In that time, I saw my other items disappear out of stock and only when everything was back on the shelf did my order finally ship.
With Private Warehouse, you have the option to purchase what you want, when you want it. When you purchase the item, the cost/exchange rate is locked in since your credit card or PayPal account is charged right away. These items are stored in a space allocated to you in the HLJ Warehouse. You can watch your Private Warehouse inventory to see when everything you need is available and ship it all when you're ready, or elect to ship what is available and wait for the other items to come in. You can even add additional items to the backlogged order and ship that batch at any time you'd like. You have control of what gets shipped and when. Note that depending on what you're ordering, it pays to bundle your shipments to save on postage, even express postage. With this system, you have that flexibility.
If you're in a hurry for particular items, I wouldn't select the Private Warehouse option if you can see those items are in stock. Select them, buy them, and ship them all in the one transaction. The Private Warehouse gives you a little more flexibility when you're dealing with backorder items, but it can add another day before items ship out. In my case, I picked up some WingNut Wings items and I could have opted to ship them immediately, but I tried the Private Warehouse option. I placed the order using my credit card and received an immediate email acknowledgement. It was nearly 24 hours later before my credit card was processed, and the items were picked and put into my Private Warehouse. Once I saw that notice, I paid for shipping of the batch of stuff and it was another 24 hours before I got a shipping notice, and another 24 hours before I received the EMS tracking number which indicated that the package was in transit. A few days later, the package had arrived on my doorstep.
If you want fast turnaround of what's in stock, opt for the ship now option and not the Private Warehouse. HLJ is fast using this option. Private Warehouse is very handy when you're trying to gather one or more projects together so you have everything you need to launch into that project when the box arrives. Either option is good, but Private Warehouse is especially good when you time your shopping to coincide with a favorable dollar (or whatever) to Yen exchange rate and want to wait for another item or two to arrive before you opt to ship them together.