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"Customs charges"

Blog entry for February 2013

(Primarily for readers in the UK)

Well, we have had another spate of complaints from UK customers about being charged around 60% of the total cost of an order in "customs charges". I have written about this problem before (here, in 2009), but things have mostly got worse since. The exchange rate reached around 110 yen to the pound, making a 3000-yen puzzle wildly out of the £17.99 range. It has eased back to around 140 yen to the pound, but the limit for being subject to VAT has also been reduced from £18 to £15.

The real problem is not VAT: paying tax might not seem enjoyable, but at least some of it does end up doing something useful. The problem is the legally sanctioned Post Office rip-off, whereby they are allowed to name any convenient figure, and take it as "handling charges", and this amount is currently set at £8.00. It is truly mysterious that seven pounds can get a package through the "handling" in Horigome-Nishi Post Office, through the Japanese sorting system to Narita airport, paying for the fuel for a transcontinental flight, through the incoming sorting office in Coventry (I believe), through the UK distribution system, into a van, and up the drive to your front door. But hidden in this simple task is the REALLY BIG JOB! Somewhere in Coventry, the package has to be taken, oh, a long way, to a different building, or floor, or something very time consuming. Then a Person has to look at it, and read the declared value. This Person requires extremely advanced education, because they have to be able to multiply this number by another number, to convert it to sterling, then compare with another number (15.00). They have to make the tricky decision as to which of these numbers is larger, and (at least in the cases they are going to collect their £8), multiply by yet another number (the VAT rate) to compute the VAT due. That's lots of Really Hard Work. Then they have to print a label, for which they probably get the help of a computer. And in an Entirely Separate Operation, the Postman (or Postlady, as the case may be) has to collect all of this money. Wow. I expect you can now see why this costs eight pounds.

The system is implemented extremely unfairly, because it is impossible to know in advance whether you will be charged: in practice many packages over the £15 limit escape any charges, but randomly, ka-ching, twelve pounds ninety (no "please"). For larger orders there is a double bind: four 1000-piece puzzles weigh just under 4kg, so arrive in two separate "small packets", ka-ching, twenty-five pounds eighty. Can't we put them together in a single "parcel"? Yes, and if we did, you would only have to pay one "handling fee," thus saving £8, but the cost of sending a "parcel" is much higher, and to pay for the extra work of carrying, sorting, and processing one package instead of two, there's an extra 2000 yen, or £14.

So somehow, we are going to offer 1000-piece puzzles (and the small-piece puzzles up to 2016 pieces) for £14.99 plus a "shipping and handling" fee to be decided, by accepting bank transfers to my bank in the UK. (As long as the pounds remains at least at 140 yen, this should cover all of the standard Japanese retail price from 2500 to 3600 yen.) It may be a while before I can implement this properly, so please contact us first if you want to buy puzzles for the UK.

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