(This article is written from the perspective of a U.S. gamer ordering miniatures from the U.K., since that is where my experience has been. However, the same ideas should apply to any foreign mail-orders.)
Why buy from another country? Here are some common reasons --
The two hurdles of ordering from a foreign company are how to place the order, and how to pay for it.
The largest miniatures companies manufacture and sell their products worldwide - companies like Games Workshop, for instance, have European and U.S. branches. Those are the easiest companies to buy from.
Other, smaller companies make arrangements with an agent to sell their goods in a particular part of the world. For instance, GHQ is a company well-known to U.S. gamers, but its products have only recently become available in the U.K. (distributed by Chiltern Miniatures). Similarly, Peter Pig is a U.K. manufacturer whose products are available in the U.S. through Brookhurst Hobbies.
The smallest companies, however, may not be distributed outside of their own countries - for instance, Trafalgar Models of the U.K. If you want their products, you must find a way to order directly from the foreign companies.
Well, this isn't always true, and you may find it less convenient than ordering from the company's local distributor.
For example - let's say that you are in the U.S., and want to buy a Han Chinese 15mm 100-piece army, and you want to know if it is cheaper to buy it from the manufacturer [British Miniatures] or from the U.S. distributor [American Distributors]. (I'm using made-up names, but the actual prices are based on a recent purchase I made.)
According to American Distributors' catalog, the army costs US$25.00, plus US$5.00 for shipping and handling.
According to an advertisement in the latest issue of U.K. Miniatures magazine, you note that the same pack costs £10. To convert this into U.S. dollars, you'll need to know the exchange rate. If the rate is 1.4 U.S. dollars to the British pound, then £10 * 1.4 = US$14. That's a savings of US$11, compared to the price from American Distributors.
But wait! That doesn't include the cost of shipping and handling. According to the same advertisement, British Miniatures charges an amount equal to 50% of the order to cover overseas airmail. That means the full charge is US$14 plus US$7 = US$21, compared to the total domestic charge of US$25 plus US$5 = US$31. Still, a savings of US$10.
(If you want to save money, see if the company will ship by surface mail rather than airmail.)
When a company has a foreign distributor, the distributor may only carry those products which are most popular or cheapest to import (due to weight). Therefore, certain specialty items (older products, for instance) might be available only from the foreign manufacturer.
In other cases, the manufacturer might be more flexible about packaging special orders than the domestic distributor can be. For instance, you might want to buy 60 charioteers, but the distributor only sells them in packs of 50 figures - going to the manufacturer could give you more options.
Placing the order by phone is fastest, but I recommend against it on these grounds -- (1) language (and accents) make communication more difficult, and (2) mistakes are made more easily.
My favorite means of placing the order is by fax. If the company has a FAX number, and if you can figure out how to place the overseas call, then you can quickly send them the exact list of what you want.
You can always use plain old mail to send the order off. Despite what you might think, mail moves rather briskly around the world, and they'll have your order soon enough.
I don't know of any manufacturers taking orders via email or the Internet. There are also security issues involving sending information such as your credit card number over the Internet.
The simplest way to pay for a foreign order is by credit card. Many European companies accept such cards as VISA and Mastercard (if they do, they will usually mention it in their advertisements and catalogs). Most credit card companies also provide a service of getting a better exchange rate (the lowest rate in a given month, for instance).
If you can't pay by credit card, you'll have a more difficult time. Most companies wish to be paid in their local currency. That is, you'll need to pay a British company with a check in Pounds Sterling, not U.S. dollars. This is something you'll have to arrange with your bank, and there will probably be a fee.
There are a few companies which accept foreign checks, but charge a penalty for making the currency conversion. Read the catalog carefully.
|28 April 2009||exchange link updated|
|23 May 1996||reformatted|
|Comments or corrections?|