So what's a proxy service? A proxy service is an outfit that will bid on Yahoo! Japan Auctions for you. They will also handle receiving the item from the seller and shipping the item off to you. Obviously, there is a fee associated with all of this - typically it is driven somehow by the cost of the item. So you end up paying the fee, the price of the item, the cost of shipping the item from the seller to the proxy and the cost of shipping the item from the proxy to you.
I believe that there are a number of proxy services out there, but I only have any experience with two of them - kuboTEN and ShoppingMallJapan.
I've been using kuboTEN off and on for about four and a half years now. I had stopped using them about a year and half ago because frankly the service was terrible. The guy who runs the site, Craig, was overwhelmed with orders and was also dealing with health issues. Everything I bid on I eventually got but it took months. Last spring I decided to give them another chance - Craig has hired people to help him out and he also rolled out a new website that's a lot easier to use. I've been pretty pleased with the service since then. kuboTEN charges 1000 yen (roughly $10) as their fee plus 10% of the total of the auction win (including shipping to kuboTEN's office in Fukuoka). So if you won something for 100 yen with 100 yen for shipping, you'd pay kuboTEN a total of 1220 yen - 100 yen for the item, 100 yen for shipping, 1000 yen fee and 20 yen for the 10% of the auction total. Keep in mind that you still have to pay for shipping from kuboTEN's office to where ever you are. You can combine items for shipping if you have multiple wins. If you win several auctions from the same seller within a 24 hour period, you only have to pay 100 yen (plus the 10 %) more per auction (rather than 1000 yen per auction).
Shopping Mall Japan has apparently been around for quite a while now but I just learned about them last spring. I've done a couple auctions through them and they're OK. Their website is kind of clunky (you can only log in or log out on the main page) and it's sometimes hard to find things. I also feel they are very slow to let you know when things happen. Their fee structure is a little bit better than kuboTEN's depending on what you're ordering. There's a $3 "wire" fee plus a processing charge that varies depending on how much your auction win was. It's $6 for an item less than 2000 yen, $8 for an item between 2001 and 6000 and $1 more every 1000 yen after that up to 33,000 yen. Between 33,000 and 100,000 yen it's a flat fee of $35 and beyond 100,000 it's $0.50 per 1000 yen. If you buy multiple items from one seller, SMJ only charges you the $3 fee once and takes $1 off the processing fee for each item won (so if you won three 1000 items from the same seller, you'd pay the $3 wire fee + $6 for the first item + $5 for the second item + $4 for the third item). One of Shopping Mall Japan's interesting features is that they have an office in Tokyo as well as in Indiana (I think it's in Michigan City but I'm not positive). They bulk ship items via EMS from Tokyo office to the Indiana office so that you only end up spending a fraction of what you would normally. So you ultimately end up paying for shipping three times - seller to SMJ's Tokyo office, SMJ's Tokyo office to SMJ's Indiana office and finally SMJ's Indiana office to you. The hope is that this works out to being cheaper than shipping from Japan directly to you.
A lot of this is kind of confusing so I decided to do a bit of comparison shopping - I went looking for two items I was interested in for the same price by the same seller that were ending roughly the same time. After a bit, I finally decided on two 1978 Calbee cards (one of Yasushi Tao and one of Tatsuhiko Kimura) for sale by (of all people) Mint Yokohama. The cards were 500 yen a piece. (NOTE - I would not normally buy something like this off of YJA unless I was buying some other things from the same bidder. As you will see, the costs with the fees and the shipping will add quite a bit to the cost.)
Both proxy sites require that you pay a deposit before you can bid on anything. This is to protect themselves from deadbeat buyers. It's fairly easy to enter a deposit in kuboTEN - you go to the account management page (after you log in) and click on the "add funds" button in the deposit section. You'll be taken to another page to enter the amount that you want to deposit, then taken to another page to actually make the payment. You can pay either by PayPal or directly by credit card but either way you end up paying a 3.9% fee by their payment processor. Once you pay the deposit, you are allowed to bid up to the amount of your deposit.
It's a little more complicated with Shopping Mall Japan. You can pay a cash deposit via PayPal but you need to go to PayPal directly and send the money to SMJ's email along with a note with your user name. You then have to wait until they credit your account with the deposit which could take a little while. Once you have been credited with a cash deposit, you can build to (roughly) five times what your deposit was. You can also do a credit authorization deposit using a credit card - I haven't done this but it appears that you can't do it directly on their website - you need to send them an email telling them how much to authorize. Once a credit deposit is set up you can only bid up to the amount that's authorized.
Both proxy services offer ways to search Yahoo! Japan Auctions but I haven't used them much. I generally search the auctions directly and once I find things I want to bid on I use each site's auction bid page. I have to say that SMJ's page is much easier to deal with than kuboTEN's. At SMJ, all I need to do is enter the URL of the page I want to bid on along with the amount I want to bid (you actually enter that on a second page after SMJ has looked at the url). At kuboTEN, I need to enter the name of the auction site (kuboTEN also supports bidding on mbox and Rakuten Auctions), the url, the title of the auction, the auction id and the amount you want to bid. (I asked Craig at kuboTEN why I had to fill all that in - basically he said that if you used kuboTEN to search YJA directly, I'd be able to bid very easily - the page I'm using was really meant for the other auction sites. Since I don't like the lack of flexibility in kuboTEN's auction browser, I'm going to continue to do it this way).
So let's get down to the comparison. I did a 1000 yen deposit at kuboTEN and a $10 deposit at SMJ. Each of the cards sold for 500 yen. I used the remaining deposit on each account to pay for some of the fees. Here's the totals for kuboTEN:
|Item||Amount In Yen||Amount In $||Notes|
|Deposit||1039||10.53||PayPal fee of 39 yen. PayPal used exchange rate of 98.733 yen = $1|
|Auction, Domestic shipping and fees||686||6.92||Domestic shipping was 100 yen. Fees were 1060 yen (1000 yen plus 10% of 600 yen). Total including auction price was 1660 yen. I paid 1000 of that using the deposit so I needed to pay 660 yen. I had to pay 26 yen PayPal fee on that also. PayPal used an exchange rate of 99.23 yen = $1.|
|International Shipping||229||2.31||kuboTEN gave me three options for shipping - surface(I think), SAL and EMS. Surface was the cheapest but SAL was only about 40 yen more and roughly 1000 yen less than EMS, so I went with SAL for 220. Once again, I had to pay an extra "PayPal fee" of 9 yen. PayPal used an exchange rate of 99.22 yen = $1.|
Here are the totals for Shopping Mall Japan:
|Item||Amount In Yen||Amount In $||Notes|
|Auction, Domestic shipping and fees||7.55||The fee for the auction was $9 ($3 "wire" fee plus $6 "processing"). The shipping charge was 330 yen - this was both the domestic shipping to SMJ's office and my portion of the "bulk" shipping to the US. More on this below. SMJ uses a 97 yen = $1 exchange rate so they charged me a total of $8.55 for the auction price (500 yen) and the shipping. So the total price for item plus fees was $17.55. I used the deposit to pay for some of it so I only needed to pay an additional $7.55|
So Shopping Mall Japan was almost two dollars more than kuboTEN. The bulk of the difference appears to be in the shipping costs. They charged me 330 yen for shipping from the seller to their Tokyo office and then from the Tokyo office to Indiana. This seemed somewhat high to me. When I asked them how much the bulk shipping fee was, they said it was only 30 yen, implying that shipping from the seller to the office was 300 yen. I pointed out to them that the auction said that domestic shipping was only 100 yen (which is what kuboTEN paid but I didn't tell them that part). I did not get an answer back from them on that. Even more ridiculous, however, was the final shipping from Indiana to my house. I requested first class, expecting that it would be a dollar or so to ship the single card in a padded envelope. Instead, I was charged $4.05 for a box roughly four inches on a side. Once you make your shipping request, SMJ goes ahead and ships your item before you get a chance to argue the price so at that point I had to just pay it.
I took pictures of the box:
The other thing that SMJ does that I didn't like here is decide what the exchange rate should be. They used an exchange rate of 97 yen = $1 so my auction price and shipping cost of 830 yen was $8.55. If I had gotten the same rate that I had been getting from PayPal (about 99 yen = $1), it would have been about $8.38. Not a huge difference for this particular item but for a more expensive item, this could end costing a couple of dollars.
The auctions ended on July 24. I received the card from SMJ on August 6th. I did not receive the card from kuboTEN until August 19th. kuboTEN had shipped the card the morning of July 29th (Japan time) so took almost 3 weeks for the card to get to me which is a little long for most shipments I get of this type. I suspect that for whatever reason, the card got held up in customs.
I mentioned before that I would not normally have bought these two cards this way - I would have bought both of them through one site or the other. I thought it might be interesting to see how much I would have paid if I had used each site to buy both cards. We're going to use the same deposits and assume that the shipping costs would have been the same in both cases. For kuboTEN, the auction cost would have been 1100 yen, so the fee would have been 1210 yen (1000 for the first item, 100 for the second and 110 for the 10% of the auction cost). The total would have been 2310 yen. I would have paid 1000 of that using my deposit, so I would have sent a second payment of 1310 which (with a fee of 3.9%) would have been about $13.75 (using an exchange rate of 99 yen = $1). We're assuming shipping would have been the same so for a total we sum up the deposit ($10.53), the second payment ($13.75) and the international shipping ($2.31) and get a total of $26.59. For SMJ, we'd be paying the $3 "wire" fee, $6 for the processing of the first item and $5 for the processing of the second item plus 1330 yen for the items plus the shipping. At their exchange rate of 97 yen = $1, that 1330 yen becomes $13.71. Add in the $4.05 final shipping and we get a total of $31.76. So it would have cost almost $5 more to have used SMJ.
So in wrapping this up, I have to say that I think kuboTEN is the better way to go. They end up being a little cheaper and they really seem to have cleared up the issues that I had had with them in the past. Really the only thing that I like about Shopping Mall Japan is the ease of entering a bid. I did get the card faster via SMJ but I think that may have been a fluke. I think kuboTEN's site is much easier to deal with when I need to pay for something. kuboTEN is also much better at sending emails to let you know something has happened, like your item has been received. I have never gotten an email from SMJ telling me my item had been received - I have only discovered it by checking my account page on their site. Most importantly, I have never felt like kuboTEN has done silly things with shipping that ended up costing me more money.
I'm going to notify both sites about this post and invite them to respond. I'll publish any emails I get from them here.