Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review of Hobby Link Japan

Finally had the time to write my review of Hobby Link Japan. An export company started by American Scott Hards in 1995 to cater to Japanese toy aficionados and hobbyists. They’ve been around for quite a long time and first impression of their online shop is that its convenient because its in English and because they carry a lot of inventory that could help save you some serious money in shipping charges.
A few months back I had ordered during Hobby Link Japan’s sale a Yamato 1/60 Super & Strike pack and some Revoltech Getter toys. Items were requested to be sent by SAL. You have an option to have your items shipped by SAL but in the case of very huge or expensive items, it has to be sent by trackable EMS. If your shipping is by SAL be prepared to wait, mine took more than a month to get to me since I live in SE Asia and I tell you the mail is so slow, you’d think we’re still using steam ships. For payment, you have the option to pay by credit card, paypal or money order.

After over a month and a half the item arrived. No fault on HLJ’s part since our mail system in my country really takes a long time. Add to that that I’m a few islands off from the capital city.
The box arrived and it shouted HLJ all over. With the company logo and link to the website. Its not really a major issue but I usually prefer my packages to be nondescript since our postal system is very notorious for having stuff stolen by bad employee’s.
Posted on the sticker with my address was the value of the item and the tax category it should be in. At the HLJ ordering portion of the site I didn’t see any comment section where you could specify how the item was to be classified for shipping. This will come in useful if you are planning to buy from HLJ to send as a gift to somebody, that way the recipient won’t have to pay a chunk of change in customs taxes. Of course there are some people who ask some online companies to lower the declared value of the item in order to skip paying a large chunk of tax… bad, bad, bad.

During the unboxing the items were wrapped in plastic. I had already removed them before I remembered to take a picture, so the shot below is a recreation. The items do not come with bubble wrap, which would be important in the case of serious collectors who want their collections to be pristine in condition, right down to the box. But in my case, I received my toys in good condition.

What I like about HLJ compared to the other online shops is that they offer not only toys but model kits and the related tools and scratch building materials needed by that hobby. They have a lot of items on their shop but I noticed that a lot of them are already out of stock.
I like how the items are displayed on the site, since they are sorted well and that you have to option to browse by company, item type, genre, series and scale. I usually go right away to the search box on the site during my visit. When using the search function, you have the option to display only items that are in stock via a checkbox. I’d recommend that you do this to make your surfing more easier since HLJ carries a LOT of items.
For the shoppers convenience, HLJ has a sale page, where items for sale are posted. Makes it easier to search for bargain items this way. Aside from the HLJ sale page there is the early bird page where you can place advance orders on items that are yet to be released in Japan but are already sure to be carried by Hobby Link Japan.
What I don’t like about their item page is that you can’t right click on the thumbnails in order to view another product. Some funky javascript always comes out when you hover over the item that displays some info about it, negating the option to right click and view in another tab of your browser. Well its a minor nuisance for me who’s so much used to tabbed browsing already.
I like the content they display on their site which aren’t related to items for sale. Chiefly the articles and photo essays related to the toy and modelling industry of Japan. Examples of which are interviews with companies and photos taken at toy conventions around Japan.
With regards to the cart system, its standard fare, click to add the item to your cart then login afterwards to process the payment. The cart system at HLJ however resets during a certain time of the day. I learned this the hard way when I added some scratch building items to my cart then left them there for the following day, to my surprise that they had been deleted. So I had to once again sift through the volumetric items in their shop to add it to my cart.
I also learned that they cannot combine cart orders, once you commit an order that’s it. After making my order I wanted to add some additional items in my cart that I had found while surfing through their shop again a few hours later. I didn’t know how to do this so I asked for some help in their contact email. The guy on the other end was kind enough to explain to me that this wasn’t possible in their system, they suggested that I request for the first order to be deleted in my control panel then start all over again.
With regards to their system for processing orders however, I find the procedure for paying by paypal quite archaic and tedious. Mostly because you have to send the money manually to HLJ by typing in their email address and amount at paypal’s send money option. The site’s paypal function lacks the functionality to automatically make a request for payment from you. It would be nice if they invest in a good e-commerce system in their website to make it more convenient for buyers, even a simple request for money invoice from their paypal account would suffice. I shudder with the thought that I could accidentally send the payment to the wrong person or key in the wrong value. At least your fears can be put to rest after you send the money because it usually sends you a confirmation email right away saying that they received your payment.
Overall I’d say that I was satisfied with the service offered by HLJ and would definitely order from them again. The main reason I would buy from them again is because of the frequency of their sale seasons as well as that they have a lot of items in their inventory aside from just toys.
Update (9/30/2009): I like what HLJ did with my recent purchase, wherein they sent my package with plastic air-bags in them to protect it from the handling. I guess this method is cheaper than using bubble packs. +1 again for HLJ.