Monday, May 11, 2015
Asking for discounts at Japanese toy stores
The question is innocent enough, but it might not get you the response you expected. Recently there have been some developments on this front, and I thought I'd share my experiences.
At large stores...
At big box stores (like Toys R Us) and other places selling new toys (like Yamashiroya), it's pretty clear that they won't give you a discount unless there's a sign posted or the figure is marked down on the package. Employees typically have zero ability to lower prices, and generally it's just not part of the retail store culture. Most people know that already, but in case you're wondering about Japan, the same holds true.
At toy shows...
At shows, there's generally some room to get a better deal, and it's even anticipated that you'll bargain. I've seen both Japanese collectors and international visitors ask for lower prices. Sellers will often come down 10% (or maybe 20% if you're lucky), but I wouldn't push your luck beyond that.
Of course you can try the old "bundling" technique by adding things to the pile and throwing out a lump sum. But more often than not, the seller will add things up one by one, and then you're back at 10-20%. Still, the negotiating can be done with a smile, and it is part of the show culture. So that's a plus.
At small stores...
Then we get to the question of small shops selling used toys. It used to be that you could go to checkout, ask for a discount, and get a fairly standard 10% off. I don't know about other people, but I've noticed a pronounced change over the last year. More than one store has said something to the effect of, "Does Mandarake give discounts? No, they don't, and I don't either."
Now, I'm not sure if there was a toy store pow wow, or an influential article written, or what not, but hearing very similar things said in more than one shop makes me wonder whether the smaller shops have decided to band together and stick to a "no discount" policy.
I suspect part of it has to do with the record number of overseas visitors flooding Japanese toy shops. When you get dozens of discount requests every day, that must sting and make you a bit jaded - especially when it's increasingly difficult to restock shelves due to the shrinking number of people selling things to shops. (You can thank the Internet - and especially Yahoo Japan Auctions - for that.) Shops have a limited supply of the good stuff, so they're understandably reluctant to blow it out.
When in Rome...
In case you're wondering about local etiquette, when Japanese shoppers go into small stores, they typically will not ask for a discount. I think that's important to point out. So when you're looking to save some yen, you are going against the grain and potentially risking offending the shop keeper.
Some shops continue to give deals, so if you want, you can still ask. But here is my best advice. If you really want to try for a better deal, just casually drop the question, "Can I get a discount?" Ask just once, smile, and pay close attention to the shop keeper's expression. If he/she smiles and says, "Maybe" or "Sometimes" or "A little," then that's a good sign. If the expression becomes serious, no matter what the person says, drop all talk of getting a bargain. Because even if you get 5% off, you may have offended the person. And that's not cool just to save a small amount, especially if you plan to go back to the shop.
I know it's tough to try to pick up subtle signs, but this is a culture where people do not always speak their minds. The unspoken word is sometimes the loudest. Then again, the person might just tell you straight up, "Do you get a discount at Mandarake? No, and you won't here either."
The big picture...
So have fun with your toy shopping, but try and be sensitive to the shifting landscape when it comes to discounts. Collectors want a good deal, but shop owners need to stay in business in a tough retail environment.
Has anyone had the experience of getting discounts at shops in Japan or other countries? (I'd love to hear about how things are elsewhere!) If so, drop a comment below, or head over to our Facebook page and join the discussion there.