For people new to lolita fashion, shopping services can be a somewhat odd concept. However, once you get more comfortable in the fashion, they prove to be an invaluable resource. A shopping service is, in short, a person or company who will buy an item, and ship it to you for a small fee. This is useful for stores that don’t ship overseas and/or take payments from overseas, items only available in store, japanese auctions, etc.
Before I go into the rest, there are a few important points. Never contact a shopping service and tell them you want to buy something unless you are 100% committed and have the full amount to pay up front. It doesn’t matter if they say they won’t ask for it until later; you should already have the money and set it aside. You can’t change your mind or back out once they have purchased your item, so always be sure. That said, many shopping services are happy to answer questions about your items ahead of time. Just make sure that if you aren’t yet sure, and want to ask a question, that you make this very clear to the shopping service (for example, if you want to buy something but aren’t sure how much it might cost, you might write to them and say “I really like this item, but I’m not sure if it’s too expensive or not. Can you tell me how much it would cost?” or “I really like this item, but I’m not sure if it is the right size. Can you tell me the size?”). Avoid asking questions when you have no intention of buying from them; there are other places (like egl) where general questions are welcome, but shopping services are businesses, not your personal google. Also, always read the rules, fee charts and methods of payment accepted, as well as checking online reviews before you start a transaction. If you can’t find any reviews but want to try the service, consider using it for a smaller, low risk transaction first. That way, if something goes wrong, you won’t have as big of an issue.
There are two main types of shopping services. The first is what I like to call a personal or individual shopping service. This is a shopping service which consists of a single person, usually someone who is foreign and living in the country you are buying from, and usually someone who is either a lolita, or into another similar Japanese fashion. Because this person is experienced in J-Fashion, they tend to be familiar with different brands, shops and terminology. While not all individual shopping services will shop in physical stores, most do, and this, coupled with a personal knowledge of the fashion are the biggest advantages of this style of shopping service. Most charge a percentage or flat fee + a transportation fee for instore shopping (though many also offer online shopping as well.) , and most operate via email or another form of personal contact. If you want to buy a lucky pack, or something that will sell out quickly and is not an auction, this is the best type of shopping service to employ. For orders in Japan when I want to use a personal shopping service, I use Chibi_Tenshi, who I’ve found to be quite professional, and all around simple great.
The second type is what I call a business shopping service or a big shopping service. These are companies which employ multiple people. Most of them have their own websites, some have fancy ordering systems, some just use email. They pretty much only do online shopping. Some are specific to certain stores / types of stores, others will do anything available online in their country. Now, if there is a big sale, a limited edition item, a fancy new release or a lucky pack, this probably isn’t the best way to do things. Most of these companies assume that they can take their time to order and may take a day or more to process your order. For most things, this is not an issue. For time-sensitive items… not so much. If you have an item you expect to sell out quickly and want to use a big shopping service, contact them well ahead of time and ask if it’s possible for them to try. Explain about how fast you feel the item will sell out and give them the exact date and time you expect the item to be available. Some of them do snipe bidding on auctions and rush orders for auctions ending soon, but not all of them do. I like to use FromJapan for my Japanese orders because I like to buy a lot of little things that aren’t time sensitive and bid on a lot of little auctions and it’s easy to track my past purchases on their site.
Now, a few points that people often miss. Taobao (home of shops like Infanta, Dear Celine and Chess Story) is in China. So if you want to order from Taobao, you need a Chinese shopping service and there are a number which are specific to Taobao. I’ve used both Taobao Spree and Taobao Ring. I was not particularly pleased with Taobao Ring as they ignored some of my questions and ordered two pairs of shoes in the wrong colors (only one of which I caught in their proof photos). Taobao Spree has been reasonably good, though there was a weird instance with my first order where they didn’t charge me for something and had to come back and ask me to pay for it like a month later.
General Process for a personal shopping service:
- Find an item you like online, in a catalog, on a blog, etc
- Following the shopping service’s rules, contact them by their preferred method with the required information. Try to include a description of what you want that includes where it’s sold, the size and color you want, and a picture.
- Usually you will be contacted back to confirm, and given a quote if it varies from their standard formula. Some will ask for full payment, or a deposit at this time.
- The shopping service buys your item either in a shop or online (if they buy it in store, there is usually a transportation fee).
- If the item was bought online, it makes it’s way to the shopping service (you will pay this shipping cost as part of your total).
- The shopping service contacts you for shipping info if they haven’t yet, calculates shipping and invoices you for the final payment.
- You pay (try to be prompt, and contact them back once you have paid)
- The shopping service mails your item
- Your item arrives. If the shopping service takes reviews somewhere (like on egl_comm_sale’s review section), be sure to write them a review.
General Process for a business shopping service:
- Find an item you like online.
- Following the shopping service’s preferred method, submit the item you want’s information. If it’s an auction, submit your maximum bid and if you want it to be a snipe bid (bid at the last moment) or not. For online stores, be sure to include the color and size you want when applicable.
- Pay for the item. (some shopping services ask for a deposit, others charge you your full mximum bid. If they can’t automatically calculate the price, wait for them to send you a quote and then pay the quote as timely as possible).
- The shopping service buys your item or places a bid for you.
- If you win the auction, or it was a normal online store purchase, the item is shipped to the shopping service. You will be required to pay this shipping as part of your final payment. If you lost the auction or the item was sold out, you will get a refund (sometimes in store credit). Any extra beyond your winning bid that you paid already will be refunded (sometimes in store credit).
- The shopping service has you select a shipping option if they offer multiple methods, and then they calculate your shipping cost (some left you combine shipping of multiple orders; take advantage of this because it will save you money!)
- You will get a quote for any remaining balance, including both shipping costs, and most of the fees you incurred. Pay this to the shopping service.
- The shopping service mails your item
- Your item arrives.