On Bargain Hunting

If I had a pound for every time I have seen someone advise others that they can get second hand brand for cheap nowadays, I’d have enough for a decent used brand haul. However, these people often fail to mention a tiny little caveat: that finding it is not always as easy as it sounds and there is a skill to finding brand bargains. Even when you know which websites to look at, there are some tips and tricks that will help squeeze even more out for your buck.

Disclaimer: this post will be most useful for those using Mercari, Fril and Yahoo! Auctions Japan. This will not be much use for those looking to spot bargains on Lacemarket or Facebook sales.

General tips

People who get the best bargains possible tend to share these qualities:
  • have knowledge of the market,
  • be patient,
  • and have only a vague wish list.

You need to know what things are worth at the moment to know how much you can expect to pay for your items (bearing in mind that often the value on the Japanese second hand market may differ to that on the Western one). This will help you establish what really is cheap. For example, Angelic Pretty’s Princess Cat is a popular print which still goes for around the same as it did when it was new (just under ¥30’000). Therefore, finding it ¥24’000 is what you’d expect and not particularly a bargain, but if you spot it for let’s say ¥17’000 (around 60% retail) then that’s a good deal. On the other hand, if you spot it for ¥10’000 then be very vigilant and look out for signs of some serious damage or a scam. Knowing the market and the value of the pieces you’re after can save you in more than one way.
Then remember to stay patient, especially if you’re looking for a specific item at a low price. Some rarer pieces may take years to appear, even longer if you’re determined not to pay more than a certain amount. Combining patience with being methodical, so regularly checking the sites for new additions, will ensure that you’ve not missed much, although there is always the risk of temptation to buy something else.
And finally, bear in mind that the best bargains tend to be for the least wanted items (which doesn’t necessarily reflect their condition either). The vaguer your wish list and search criteria, the higher your chances of finding that item that will tick all the boxes. For example, looking for AP’s Jewelry Ribbon Heart bag in pink will be a long and slow process, which may not prove that cheap, but if you expand your search to pink brand heart bags (or even just bags) you may be surprised how little people can sell some very similar ones for.

Website specific tips

Now that you know what to stick to in general, let’s talk specifics.

1. Search only by brand name

In accordance with being vague when searching, the fewer search terms you use the better. With Mercari, Fril and Yahoo! Auctions you don’t need to type the brand names in Japanese, you will still get loads of search results by typing it out using Latin alphabet. Fril and Mercari also allow the listings to be categorised under the brand tag, which means that it doesn’t matter whether the brand’s name in the listing title is misspelled (e.g. ‘anjelic pritty’), in a common abbreviation (e.g.イノワ, inowa , for Innocent World) or not in the listing title at all, you will still get results. On top of this, not all sellers will put the item’s name in the listing, for whatever reason. The number of times I saw listings titled just ‘angelic pretty JSK’ or something similar is quite surprising and often these generic terms can hide some pretty popular prints at really good prices. This way takes longer to find an item, but the bargain that you get for it will be worth the wait.

Just some examples of popular dresses you might not have
found if you searched by the print name.
Click to enlarge.

2. Search by Angelic Pretty regardless of what you’re looking for

This is especially true of Yahoo! Auction, but applies to the other two as well: searching the key terms ‘angelic pretty’ will yield a surprising number of results from other brands. Similarly for other brands, e.g. some Victorian Maiden or Mary Magdalene items can be found when searching for Innocent World, but as one of the biggest brands AP tends to steal the spotlight. Sellers put as many popular search phrases into their product descriptions, tags and sometimes even listing names as they can to maximise the views and therefore chances of selling. But as long as you don’t order your search results by name, you should expect to see a variety of products from different brands (recently increasingly including Chinese ones like Krad Lanrete) when searching for just one of them.

Spot the other brands when I searched for 'Angelic Pretty' via
Click to enlarge.

3. Display results from cheapest to most expensive

Yahoo! Auctions shows recommended (i.e. most popular) listings first, meaning that it can feel as if nothing is being added, especially if you check daily. On the other hand, Mercari and Fril show the most recently added first, but unless you check regularly you could go forever. For your first search, and maybe every now and then when you feel like it, order search results by price from lowest to highest and search this way (it’s a good idea to set yourself an upper limit, but not compulsory). This will be a time consuming process, so make sure you have enough spare time to do it, but again, you’ll be surprised what treasures can lurk there. When you’re not looking for specific items, but a type of things such as accessories or tops, you could add a further category filter, but the best way to make sure you don’t miss things is to browse everything that comes up in a search result.

This is what 'sort by lowest price first' is in Japanese. Use this
power for good.
Click to enlarge.

4. Don’t be put off by minor damages

As you may have already discovered if you’ve shopped with Closet Child or Wunderwelt, the Japanese have a tendency to overestimate the extent of the damage and subsequently set the price significantly lower. This is partly because they don’t have as strong a culture of buying used products as some Western countries, but also due to the customer-client expectations of the quality of service and quality of product. They tend to take these relationships seriously, which results in exaggerating the damage and underpricing, whereas by our standards these would be items in good or very good condition and still listed for close to the top estimate based on the Western second hand market value. Look carefully at the photos or request additional photos of the damage where it’s mentioned, but not shown, and don’t be afraid to tackle things yourself. You will be able to get rid of most small stains and fix things such as missing buttons without too much effort or cost involved – and surely that’s worth doing for a ¥8’000 dress or a ¥700 bag (and yes, these prices are not uncommon). Just make sure you check the listing as closely as possible to ensure that you’d be ok with repairing (or living with) these damages before you commit to buy them, as in most cases you won’t be able to return them.

Listing name says the item is damaged, the damage listed
was fading of the colour on the left sleeve, which doesn't seem
particularly visible. But at Y1500 for a fully shirred brand
blouse someone got themselves a good bargain!
Click to enlarge.

5. Know your job lots

Very often people will list items as a lot: a complete coord or a set of items of the same category. These are often very tempting, as you know that you get more items for one price, but remember that it’s not a real bargain if you’re getting stuff you don’t need, wouldn’t use and might not be able to sell on. Consider the job lot carefully: how many items of the lot do you really want, would you be able to use/incorporate the other ones, would it be more worth waiting for an individual item to appear since that’s the only one you actually want etc. If you’re doing a group order or can find a friend who’s interested and will take your unwanted bits off you straight away, then it’s a far better deal because you won’t have to look for someone to sell unwanted items to (and the Western second hand market is saturated as is). Or unless you’re after bits for raffle prizes – then you get more items for one price, giving you a better raffle in turn. But if all of the items in the lot are to be for you, then make sure that you actually do want and would use all of them (or at least all bar one, maybe two).

It's a great value (if you win the bidding war), but would you
really need all of these? And would you be able to sell of those
that you don't?
Click to enlarge

6. Stay vigilant

Last bit of advice is to simply trust your instinct and common sense. This is also where knowing your market comes in: if a bargain seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Unfortunately, just because you’re using Mercari, Fril or Yahoo! Auction doesn’t make you less likely to get scammed, so look out for the obvious signs: lack of proof photos, vague descriptions, poor seller feedback, overload of key terms to maximise views, price too good to be true (or too much)… You will find a lot of ¥1 listings on Yahoo! Auction, but there are no guarantees that they are all genuine. If you feel like it might be real, get in touch with a reputable shopping service like Chibi Tenshi or Japonica Market and purchase through them, asking them to first confirm a few things with the seller to establish reliability. They may already know the seller from a past transaction and could tell you straight away whether they’re trustworthy or not. At the end of the day, it’s only a bargain if it doesn’t cause you extra charges, which a scam inevitably would.

Highlighted are all the bits that would make me examine the
whole listing very carefully before doing anything.
Click to enlarge.

By following these tips I have seen and often scored some great bargains on used brand items. Even though most of the times I’m after specific things, by staying patient and knowing what these go for on the Japanese market, I have been able to grab some pretty close to my budget (whilst having to resist many a temptation for impulse purchases along the way, I won’t lie). I hope that these will help you as well and depending on interest, I may do another post tackling Lacemarket and Facebook sales as well – would you want to read that? Let me know in the comments, please!


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