Using Kakaku.com, the extremely popular Japanese price comparison search engine, you can save a lot of money, but there are naturally a variety of caveats inherent. Here I present a guide to using Kakaku.com which will hopefully give you an idea of how to use it to best effect.
What is Kakaku.com? 価格.com (kakaku – price/value)/Kakaku.com is simply a popular Japanese price comparison engine, the likes of which now exist in most countries. It now handles most products which could reasonably be procured online to some extent or another, from electronics to ISPs, even extending now to funerals and financial products.
Shops listing their products on Kakaku.com pay some combination of a monthly subscription, a referral fee or per clickthrough fee of 18¥. Producers can do PR deals with the site to get their products pagespace.
Customers get to use the powerful site features to rank products by a variety of criteria, with a strong emphasis on price competition. Comparing the listed shops is also possible, along with a host of other features for analysis and community portal usage. All in all, it is a very well executed site, and extremely useful.
Is it easy to use Kakaku.com? If you can read Japanese, have a Japanese address, and have a Japanese bank account which offers cheap furikomi, then yes, it is easy to use, and you can save a great deal of money. However, the only really crucial thing here is the Japanese address part – even a hotel should suffice.
A few will offer international shipping, but payment is likely to be by credit card which means a higher price on average as someone will have to bear the processing fees; you are able to waive the 5% consumption tax in this case, but you will also be hit with currency conversion charges, hidden or otherwise.
You may be able to get by through using Rikaichan in place of actual Japanese ability (a few product categories and the address form are the only really pressing things to read), and of course a credit card or cash on delivery can easily be substituted for a Japanese bank account, at the cost of reducing your selection slightly.
The actual amount you can save on Kakaku.com varies wildly, naturally dependent on the product in question. Some items, such as game consoles, generally have such a thin margin that buying them with Bic or Amazon is likely to be as cheap as going for an ultra-discount retailer on Kakaku.com, but for electronics and PC hardware extremely deep discounts can be had.
Niche items are less likely to have much price competition going, and in many cases the price comparison interface is eschewed in favour of a simple list (figures are displayed like this, for example), so digging through them becomes necessary.
PS3 Game: Valkyria Chronicles ¥6,443-¥7,581 15% difference
Anime DVD: Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei 2 ¥5,284-¥7,140 25% difference
Figure: Mizugi Nagato ¥3,724-¥5,040 26% difference
Headphones: Denon AH-D5000 ¥47,820-¥69,552 41% difference
Notebook: ThinkPad T61p ¥242,500-¥449,800 46% difference
The general pattern is that the lowest prices will be offered by small specialist retailers, the very cheapest of which will only offer payment by bank transfer (these generally cost from 160¥ with an online bank to 600¥ with a high street bank); payment can be cleared in about an hour.
Cash on delivery is also often possible for a small fee (800¥). As the price increases payment options will increase, although some delinquent retailers will add a surcharge for card payments (against the terms of service for any card handler). The tiny retailers generally don’t have much feedback, but should be OK (this is Japan after all). They would not last long on Kakaku.com if they did anything sharp.
A lot of places offer free delivery on high ticket items, and checking the delivery cost is easy as it is displayed next to the price. Delivery can actually be quicker with the smaller outfits – Amazon like to hang onto normal deliveries so they can hawk their priority delivery options. Delivery will be by one of the big home delivery companies, who are all absolutely impeccable by the standards of most other countries.
Domestic delivery costs top out at 1000JPY – anything which will fit in a large padded envelope should be about 300JPY. Amazon are, as you probably realise, very good at handling international orders, but there is a whole slew of products they will not ship overseas; the others on Kakaku.com may or may not deal with international orders.
Should you use Kakaku.com? It depends. Dealing with all the small fry retailers who have a deal on Kakaku.com may not actually be dangerous, but it is certainly a hassle. You need to be attentive to things like stock availability, delivery conditions, dispatch time, payment method, etc. You have to individually register with each one you deal with. Time is money, so these factors deserve to be included in your decision.
For expensive electronics, Kakaku.com really excels (see my examples above), but for items such as games and DVDs Amazon and Bic often work out cheaper and are certainly less hassle (in fact Amazon comes out number 1 in a number of categories; Bic doesn’t get to include the 10% point card and so fares worse).
Rakuten or Yahoo are also options, but especially in the case of Rakuten, the interface is gamed hard by retailers so it becomes difficult to use, and finding comparably identical products and checking extraneous fees tends to make the whole thing a chore, if you are actually to save money doing it.
Another option is to use Kakaku.com as an Akihabara catalogue – you can simply find the cheapest shops with a physical presence in Akiba and then go there on your periodic pilgrimages. This works extremely well for electronic goods.
If you were going to Akiba anyway, this is fine (although note that in general the cheaper the shop the more inconvenient it will be to get to), but otherwise you might want to factor in time and money spent getting there – delivery of even a large item is usually the same price as actually going over there, and it can be more convenient to have things delivered.