Sunday, 10 February 2013

Brand whoring on a budget: Ins and outs of auction sites

Step three: A guide to navigating Yahoo! Japan Auctions and MBok
Topic covered: How to search, how to browse (item name, sort by price, BIN/reserve met), online translators, keeping within your budget, bidding tactics.

The key to building a brand wardrobe on a budget is to bid low and bid frequently.  To do so effectively, you'll need to spend a fair bit of time browsing through listings to find the best items with low starting bids.



There are some English blogs and fan sites/forums which will link to auctions of popular items; however, this increases the exposure for that auction, which will increase the number of other bidders.  The best way to catch a deal, is to look for auctions yourself so you may find some that are flying under the radar and thus, will have very few other bidders (and if you're lucky enough to find one that has typos in the title making key-word searches almost useless or was accidentally listed in the entirely wrong category, you might not have any competition at all).

Without knowledge of Japanese, you can still find many auction listings by entering the English or foreign names of brands since many of them are in English (ie. Angelic Pretty, Innocent World, etc) or other Latin derived languages (ie. Juliette et Justine, Mille Fleurs, etc).

If you wish to search more thoroughly, you can use Rinkya's English translated mirror for Yahoo! Japan searches.  Rinkya is a shopping service; however, their fee structure is much more expensive than most other shopping services available, so many people will browse using their system, but bid through another shopping service to save money.  You can find information about how to pick a shopping service that works best for your budget in this post.

Another way to search, is to copy the Japanese keyword from another source and enter it in the auction site's search function yourself.  This will allow you the most flexibility since you can perform the search on any auction site you wish.  There are some excellent translation and Japanese keyword resources on the internet.  One of my favourites for lolita items is frozen_yjapan's entry on Live Journal which provides multiple keywords for nearly all of the popular lolita, goth and punk brands as well as katakana translations of many clothing item types.

To start a search, you can use the search bar on the auction sites (Yahoo! Japan, MBok, etc.) or you can click right through to the search using the links on the above Live Journal entry.

Yahoo! Japan Auctions search bar

MBok! Auctions search bar

After entering the keywords, the auctions will usually appear in chronological order, with the one ending soonest first, although some featured auctions may appear at the very beginning.  You can re-sort these by clicking the links above each feature (similar to how you can sort by details in your email inbox).

A - Refined search path (kind of like a flow chart from all of the general auction listings to the specific sub-category).
B - All auctions (with or without Buy It Now).
C - Filter auctions withOUT Buy It Now options.
D - Filter auctions with Buy It Now options only.
E - Sort by "popular + new" (not sure what this is...it's a relatively new feature).
F - Sort by current bid price (switches between ascending and descending if you click it more than once).
G - Sort by buy it now price (switches between ascending and descending if you click it more than once).
H - Sort by number of bids (switches between ascending and descending if you click it more than once).
I - Sort by time left (switches between ascending and descending if you click it more than once).
J - Free shipping (this can be useful if you are using a shopping service that is located in a remote location.  Though Japanese domestic shipping tends not to cost an arm and a leg, it can still go up to over 1000yen for a blouse or other relatively light items shipped to or from remote regions of the country, which can be a hefty additional cost if you are looking to buy cheap items).
K - Include all (new and used).
L - New items only.
M -Used items only.
N - Filter by item type (ie. dress, skirt, bag, etc)
O - Filter by price range; pre-set ranges at the top with the option to enter in your own range at the bottom.

MBok has similar basic features although the layout is slightly different.

As you can see, I've used the search for one of my favourite casual brands for the screen cap.  Axes Femme (and many other large, established brands) has it's own sub-category on Yahoo! Japan, which is usually useful to search through; however, people will sometimes post related or similar items from other brands in here to increase traffic (ie. posting non-brand OOT sweet loli style wigs under the Angelic Pretty sub-category), so it can be complicated to navigate.  If you only want an item that is from that brand and will accept no substitute (although lolita replicas are quite rare on Japanese auction sites), make sure to check the description thoroughly before bidding as most auctions will have basic details, like brand name, listed in the description whereas the auction title will often list several different brand names to generate traffic.

Here is a small guide to how to navigate a Yahoo! Japan auction page.

A - Auction title/name.
B - Refined search path (kind of like a flow chart from all of the general auction listings to the specific sub-category).
C - Current bid.
D - Button to click to enter your bid.  A pop-up window will appear in which you can enter your bid (although it's unnecessary to know if you're using a SS since most of them do not allow you your own account to bid directly).
E - Time left (will be rounded down to the closest day if there is more than 1 day left; rounded down to the closest hour if there is more than 1 hour left; rounded down to the closest minute if there is less than 1 hour left).  You can click the link for a little pop-up window that will show a live countdown to the end of the auction.
F - Number of bidders.
G - Quantity available (usually 1 unless the seller has multiples of the item available for sale).
H - Starting bid.
I - Listing start date and time (Japan Standard Time).
J - Listing end date and time (Japan Standard Time).
K - Seller username.
L - Feedback score and link to feedback.
M - Link to other current auctions by the same seller.

Pictures and the description are further down the auction page.  I didn't include it in the screen cap since they usually vary entirely depending on the seller's style. 

MBok auction page (getting lazy, so here's the bare basics)

A - Refined search path (kind of like a flow chart from all of the general auction listings to the specific sub-category).
B - Auction title/name.
C - Item description (pictures can be found below all this)
D - Seller username and feedback score.  You can click the seller's name to view their feedback page.
E - Link to other current auctions by the same seller as well as how many auctions the seller has up at this time.
F - Current bid.
G - Buy It Now/max bid price if there is one.
H - Time left (will be rounded down to the closest day if there is more than 1 day left; rounded down to the closest hour if there is more than 1 hour left; rounded down to the closest minute if there is less than 1 hour left).  You can click the link for a little pop-up window that will show a live countdown to the end of the auction.
I - Listing end date and time (Japan Standard Time).
J - Quantity available (usually 1 unless the seller has multiples of the item available for sale).
K - Username and feedback score of the highest bidder.
L - Number of bidders.
M - Where to enter your bid and button to click to confirm your bid (although it's unnecessary to know if you're using a SS since most of them do not allow you your own account to bid directly).
N - Click to buy at the Buy It Now/max bid price (again, unnecessary if you're using a SS that bids on your behalf).

Auction sites are usually listed purely in Japanese, often having no more than a couple of English words listing the print name.  If you're up for learning some Japanese, Katakana is the best to learn as most words written in Katakana are taken directly from English and other Latin-derived languages.  Otherwise, if you don't have the time or aptitude to learn a new alphabet, have Google Translate or another translation site on hand to enter auction titles and descriptions.  Many auctions will have pictures of more than one items, but it is only in the title or description that there will be a mention of how many of those items are included.  It is common for sellers to post a picture of an entire outfit to demonstrate how the item can be coordinated, but the auction will only include one portion or one item in the picture.  The conditions of the items are usually listed in the description as well, although it is common practice for Japanese sellers to include a disclaimer stating something along the lines of "Picky bidders should consider carefully before bidding as this item is second hand" regardless of whether the item is brand new or is in barely wearable condition.

Even using a translation program, the resulting English translation is often a combination of English and Romanji (Japanese spelled out in English letters).  Many aspects of proper grammar are often lost in the translation process, so instead of taking the translation literally, consider it a rough description of the original message.  When the message is not clear, consider other words that may have similar meanings (resulting in a mistranslation), but would mean more under the same context.  It takes a little practice, but once you become more accustomed to common translation errors, you can glean a lot of information from auction descriptions without knowing how to read Japanese.

When you run into Romanji in a translation, say it out loud (pronounced syllable by syllable).  Japanese is a phonic language with many words adapted from foreign languages.  As a result, many words in Japanese are simply the original foreign word pronounced as closely as possible using the Japanese alphabet (Katakana as mentioned above).  Here are a few lolita related examples that you may run into.

Jyapusukato - Jumpskirt
Wanpisu - One-piece (one-piece dresses)
Kyanotie - Canotier (circular headdresses)
Obani - Over knee (over the knee length socks)

Names of many prints that are derived from non-Japanese languages (or named flat out in a non-Japanese language) can be sounded out in a similar manner.

Japanese culture usually dictates that one should strive to be very honest when describing the items being sold; however, as with any industry, once money comes into the equation, there will always be a few personalities who will twist words or outright omit problems for monetary gain.  That said, it is best to assume that an item is in worn condition unless the auction states otherwise.

If you are shopping for specific items and have a maximum limit to your budget, backwards calculate how much you should bid without exceeding your limit.  You can use an augmented form of the final cost formulas found in this post to do so.  Use the formula that best match the commission fee structure of the shopping service you're using.

First, convert your maximum spend limit into yen, which is best done using paypal's exchange rate, or if you don't have access to their calculator, it tends to be around current exchange rate x 1.035 (although they claim to charge 2.5% exchange fees, but since they don't get the actual rate, just a better-than-a-regular-person wholesale rate, it's not quite that good).

Percentage commission (assuming fees are calculated based on item cost, bank fees and domestic shipping)

{[Final item cost (in yen) / (1+ paypal fee as a decimal) - international shipping] / (1 + commission as a decimal)} - bank fee - domestic SH = maximum bid

Or if you're not so apt with using formulas, here's a basic calculator step-by-step:
  • Your maximum budget in Yen
  • Remove paypal fees (usually about 3.9%)
  • Minus international shipping
  • Remove commission (whatever percentage your SS charges)
  • Minus bank fee (if charged)
  • Minus domestic Japan SH
Tiered commission (assuming fees are calculated based on item cost)

[Final item cost (in yen) / (1+ paypal fee as a decimal) - international shipping] - tier commission fee - bank fee - domestic SH = maximum bid

Basic calculator step-by-step:
  • Your maximum budget in Yen
  • Remove paypal fees (usually about 3.9%)
  • Minus international shipping
  • Minus tiered commission fee
  • Minus bank fee (if charged)
  • Minus domestic Japan SH 
I usually play it safe and will just halve my final budget and move the decimals over 2 places on any item I've assigned more than $50US budget to as the max bid (ie $50 max budget = 2500yen max bid, $120 max budget = 6000yen max bid).  This rough estimation is pretty accurate even when the exchange rate was as low as 1US = 80yen (actual rate), so the more Yen I can get to the dollar, the less risk I will have to being over budget (and potentially even come under budget).  The main concerns using this lazy halve-the-budget-and-add-2-zeros shortcut is that the items cannot be super heavy as shipping can easily add significantly to the final cost.  Shipping can also throw off your final cost if you are buying very few items and opting for faster/more expensive shipping (ie. this method works alright if you are ordering 1.5-2kg of items to be shipped by airmail or if you are ordering over 3kg of items to be shipped by EMS).  Super cheap items will also throw a wrench into this method, although purely percentage based commission fee structures will vary slightly from this and tiered commission structures usually discourage purchasing cheap items by having a comparatively high fee for the lowest price tiers.

Once you have your maximum bid sorted out, you need keep it in mind at all times to ensure you don't lose yourself in the hunt and overbid.

For the most part, Japanese auction sites are not terribly different from western ones like eBay.  The biggest difference that I've found is that the "Buy It Now" / "即決価格" option does not disappear when the first bid is place on the item (which on sites like eBay can result in the auction ending in a higher bid than the Buy It Now price), so the "即決価格" option actually acts as both a Buy It Now option as well as an absolute maximum bid price.  The other major difference I've found is that sniping (bidding at the last possible second to prevent other buyers from having time to increase their max bid) is not possible on most auctions as the sellers usually use the auction sites' feature to add several minutes to the auction's end time if someone places a bid within the final 5 minutes.  You can still bid near the end of the auction, just keep in mind that there's no way to prevent other bidders from also bidding last minute if they are online.  If this should happen to you, be careful not to get caught up in the moment and wind up in a bidding war that results in you spending a lot more money than your intended budget.

If you get outbid, let it go.  If you feel unsure of whether or not you should bid, let it go.  Think about why you're shopping and what you have been saving for.  If you find yourself always overbidding to the point that the final cost to have the item in hand is pretty much the same as what you would be able to find on the western second hand market (ie. EGL Comm Sales), there's no point in taking the time and effort to use a shopping service.

To build or expand your wardrobe cheaply using Japanese auction sites requires a lot of patience.  Remeber that most often, the best tactic is to bid low, but bid frequently.  You will lose a large share of the auctions you bid on, but the ones you win will add up quickly if you are consistent.  Above all, keep your budget in mind.  Whether you budget based on the cost of each article of clothing or based on the overall amount of expendable income you have in hand, don't bid and buy more than you can afford.  Many of these items will pop up again in the future and you will have another chance.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing such a excellent guide to the Japanese auction sites. I've found other reviews skim over the basic page layouts ad translation options. Please keep up the hard work :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed the guide. ^^

      I wanted to share the basics since I remember how awkward I was when I first started using the auction sites. It took a lot of fumbling around to find my way, and I just hope that I'll be able to help someone ease into the sites with less difficulty than I had faced. ^^

      Delete
  2. i just want thank you for sharing your information for auction.

    veiling & koopjes

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is an excellent posting, I located your website browsing all for a related topic and arrived to this.Thanks for sharing.

    Veilingen & Actie Van De Dag

    ReplyDelete