FW-46 -- Keys to Success on Japanese Online Auction Sites

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:

* * * * * * * F R U G A L W A T C H * * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of how to be frugal in the world's most
expensive country to live (unless you read this!), written
and compiled by Wendy J. Imura.

Regular edition, February 27, 2005 Issue No. 46

- What's new (Keys to Success on Japanese Online Auction Sites)
- Bargain Roundup: (Sample Auction Roundup)
- Frugal tips (Save Money on Cell Phone Email)
- Credits

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Dear Frugal Readers,

One frequent dilemma of every foreigner in Japan, and one
subject that Frugal Watch frequently addresses, is how to
get rid of unwanted items. Unlike overseas, no readily
accessible "catch all" for items in good condition really
exists - such as Goodwill in the United States, a reliable
newspaper classifieds section, or even the perennial
favorite garage sale.

One information age solution in the United States has been
the use of E-bay, the mother of all online auction sites.
Online auctions in Japan are quite popular as well, and in
general quite effective: auction watching is a popular
pastime among Japanese young women and housewives, and you
can sometimes get quite good prices for your stuff. The major
issue: language barriers. Unless you read or write elementary
Japanese, auctioning online can be a major hassle.

Despite this, I think it is worthwhile to explore the topic.
I've had several good experiences both auctioning my own items
online, and helping others do their own auctions. The first
question is, of course, what to auction: a quick troll online
at the major Japanese auction sites will show that the
most popular items are usually used or new brand name items,
fashion items, children's items, and electronics. CDs, books,
and computer parts also sell well, while furniture, men's
clothing, and other items appear less popular.

In general, your first priority should be to make sure
that the item you want to sell is clean, free of stains,
and in as good condition as possible. If you are selling
a brand name item, having the original box, bag, or
certificate of authenticity is almost a must. If you are
selling a coat or dress, dry clean it first and advertise
the fact - it will probably add some 10-20 percent to your
final bid price.

The next step is to take a good quality digital photo
of your item. I recommend using a digital camera with
a resolution of 2 megapixels or higher - the tiny fuzzy
camera on your cell phone will probably not do. Take,
and post, as many photos as your auction provider will
allow (usually five). Make sure your pictures of the
item are taken against a white or neutral-colored
background in good light. I usually take one overall
picture of the item, then several detail shots. If selling
brand-name items or clothing, be sure and take a
picture of the tag, bag/box, or interesting/pretty
detailing on the item.

Once this is done, your next step is to select your
auction provider, and create an account with them.
Of the major auction providers,(www.bidders.co.jp,
www.rakuten.co.jp, and http://auctions.yahoo.co.jp/)
I selected Bidders, as it is the only one of the three
that allows you to create online auctions for free.
They take a percentage of your final auction price
(usually 2-3 percent) as a fee, but do not charge for
failed auctions that do not end in a winning bid. They
will also charge your credit card for the auction
fees, which is quite handy.

The final step, after successfully registering, is
to write up a brief description of your item in
Japanese, a title for your auction, and decide your
opening price. If you like, you can include some
English in your description - it might make it
stand out! But be sure and have the basics in Japanese.
I usually title my auctions with something like
"geki yasu" (majorly cheap) and then the item name,
or advertising a unique quality of the item
(Used Tiffany Pendant with Original Box!).

I also try and set the ending time for my auctions
at around 11:00 or 12:00 PM on a Saturday evening.
Why? Most young women shoppers with extra money
to spend do their auction shopping in these hours,
and I've had several last-minute bidding wars help
the final bids on my items skyrocket as a result.
It you are aiming for the housewife crowd (for
children's items, for example) you might try an
end-time for mid-day.

Finally, how to solve the language barrier: if you
do not read/speak Japanese, I would try and hook
up with a good friend or partner who does. If you have
a Japanese spouse or partner, this always helps,
but if you don't - why not ask a friend? You can offer
to do the dirty work (photography, mailing, email
checking) as long as they help you with registration
and Q&A from bidders. (Note: make sure you check your
email during your auction, as Japanese buyers
like to ask lots of questions about the item.) Even
if your partner is another foreigner, sometimes
the 'unique' Japanese in your advertisement actually
helps sell the item.

Good luck online with your auctions, and I hope the
above advice is helpful!

Frugally yours,
Wendy J. Imura

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+++ BARGAIN ROUNDUP: Online Auction Sample
To complement this week's article, I thought I'd direct
you to some online auction sample pages to give you an
example of a "good" type of listing. I've selected one
auction from each of the three major sites for similar
items, to give you an idea of how it works. If your PC
does not display the Japanese pages properly, make sure
the View (V) setting is set for Japanese-encoded web pages.

Tiffany Lock Pendant (Original Price 24,675 yen,
Current bid: 1,000 yen)
Notice the auction title advertises White Day (March 14),
a traditional holiday in Japan for thank-you gifts to women
for Valentine's day. Note a low starting bid price (100 yen)
to encourage bidders to bid up. Auctions with a high
starting bid tend to be unpopular, as they appear to be less
of a bargain. Good photo showing the official box and bag as
well, though a little blurry.

Tiffany Lock Pendant (Starting Bid: 11,800 yen, no lower
http://www.bidders.co.jp/item/45697908 (Brand new item)
Same product, different auction provider. Note that this
auctioneer has decided to set a starting bid of 11,800 yen,
but that no lower limit on bids has been set. Thus, if
there are no takers on the 11,800 yen price level, you
can bid lower. Very nice example of good photography from
a wide variety of angles. Like E-Bay in the US, Bidders
records evaluations of each auctioneers' track record and
commentary for each bid, which you can see a sample of here:

Tiffany Lock Pendant (Starting Bid: 8,980 yen, New item)
Same product, different auctioneer (again). This
auctioneer set a starting bid of 8,980 yen, and judging
from his/her current list of 620 active auctions,
appears to be a bit of a professional. Note the "ichigeki
rakusatsu kakaku,"which guarantees the bidder a sale at
that price. Adding "extras" like these to your auctions
often costs money, so do it carefully. This listing is from
the "Furima" (flea market) section of Rakuten's auction
listings. As with E-Bay, Rakuten offers many new items
up for auction as well. Note the "free wrapping" service (!).

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+++ FRUGAL TIPS (Save Money on Cell-Phone Email)
Something I just discovered after three years as an AU
subscriber: instead of sending an email (usually 1-2 yen
per email) to another AU subscriber, I can instead send a
C-mail, a type of short-text message, for free. The C-Mail
is available from the "Mail" menu, and works much the same
way as an email, except that you are limited to 100
characters. For short messages between family members or
friends, this is a nice savings. Other providers (DoCoMo
and Vodafone) might have a similar service: check it out!
(Wendy J. Imura)

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Written by: Wendy J. Imura (frugalwatch@japaninc.com)
Edited by: JI

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