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Covid-19: Shop status

We are gradually beginning to accept orders, but with very limited shipping options, which we have to handle manually. Please use the checkout form to request puzzles, and we will get back to you when we can. Please see the front page for more details.

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Blog posts in 2020

April — Coronavirus and other matters

Furano flowers puzzle

This blog entry all started in February. It was going to be titled something like "Hobbies": Do I enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles? What are my other interests? The answers in short are "Yes", and "Music". The puzzle on the right is a 2500-piece horror that I started at New Year, (with the help of some of the family!) and only finished sometime in February. I really had not realised that those slabs of colour were going to be quite a struggle. And music? Well, I play the piano (classical romantic and a bit of Bach), sing in a local choir, and also dabble in composition. So to celebrate our family's 30 years in Sano, I was to have my own concert (very small scale; a friend has a wonderful "salon" with two grand pianos and room for about 90 people) in March. We even printed flyers – in Japanese of course, but you can see one here. All this was swept away by the first wave of coronavirus infection...

So now here we are, in not-quite-lockdown. All across Asia the effect of the pandemic has been much lighter than the terrible effects in Europe and North America. No-one quite knows why, although I think it is obvious there is no single simple cause, but a combination of factors. Almost everyone wears a mask, because it is the normal thing to do if you have a cold; it means that if you sneeze you are not spraying other people with germs, virus-laden water droplets, or whatever. And there's the BCG strain, and so on and so on. The Japanese government has been somewhat shambolic as usual, gently calling for "restraint" rather than imposing draconian regulations. But as for everyone else, it is still very unclear how things will go.

We had quite a surge in sales in late March, and heard anecdotes of a sales boom from places as far apart as the Netherlands and Thailand; fairly clearly many people stuck indoors have turned to a puzzle to pass the time. But then crash!

On 1st April, the Post Office gave us a list of 150-something countries no longer accepting any airmail items, and some of them no surface mail either. And the SAL economy airmail service (most popular option at our checkout) has completely stopped; there was a warning of packages possibly being returned... And yesterday (17th April), a Post Office van came round with a mountain of our packages, back to square one. We hope to resend these eventually, and if you are one of the unlucky customers, I will be in touch within a few days.

Meanwhile, we tried following the list: this is not the clearest, because it only ever lists countries as not providing some service or services. We have sent a number of orders to the US, UK, and one or two other countries not listed, but checking the tracking information for these shows that in practice the whole system is clogged up, and nothing is moving. We will keep monitoring progress; perhaps services will resume country by country, but I rather expect we will be unable to send more until May.

Please bear with us: you can request puzzles using the checkout form, and we will try to be ready to send orders as soon as it is possible. Meanwhile, please stay safe, so we can all see this through.

May — Coronavirus blog number two

Half-way through May, and we have made some progress. We can now send orders of puzzles, at least to some countries, but with very restricted choices for shipping. Except for a very few countries (Singapore, for example) there are no normal air services, so the choices are either to use surface mail, or the Yamato courier service. Neither of these options is really oriented to small orders (a single 1000 pc puzzle, for example), and for various reasons we have to calculate shipping costs manually. It always helps if you say whether you are looking for maximum economy, or want puzzles as soon as possible.

SAL This is easily the most popular shipping method over the span of our existence: I can't remember what "SAL" stands for, and each country seems to have a different name, but this is the Japan Post economy air service. Currently it is suspended everywhere, and since the Post Office relies enormously on plentiful spare freight space on commercial airliners, it is not going to return very soon. From experience of similar suspensions in individual countries, I think it is likely to be at least a year before we could hope to go back to what was "normal service".

So what are the alternatives?

Surface for economy

Surface mail is normally slow: typically taking between one and two months to most locations, and if anything, extra delays are very likely. We can offer the surface parcel rate: this depends on the total weight and the destination, but for a single 1000-piece puzzle you can expect to pay 50-80% of the cost of the puzzle. But if you buy four puzzles instead, that cost will only be roughly double. And for a large order of 6 or 8 puzzles, there is real economy!

Note that surface is not available to some countries, including Spain, Chile, Argentina, and Indonesia.

Yamato courier for (relative) speed

We are experimenting with Yamato, who offer an international extension of the immensely popular domestic takkyūbin parcel service. In normal times this is comparable to EMS, taking 5-7 days to get anywhere, but generally costing somewhat more. Currently the service is at least operating (unlike EMS to most countries), but subject to delay of "some weeks". In other words, it is probably likely to take longer than SAL, our normal economy option, but cost more than EMS, our normal express service. But at least it should be faster than surface.

A special problem with Yamato is the pricing. For ordinary domestic service, they take the sum of the dimensions of the package in centimetres, and have a scale of 60, 80, 100, 120, 140, or 160 cm for the "size". Each step costs 10%-20% more than the previous one, so there are no sudden jumps. But they have used the same system for international rates, with bizarre results. For example, a Beverly 1000-piece puzzle to the US costs 2750 yen, while most Epoch puzzles cost 4650 yen. Every other pricing scheme I have ever seen uses weight, because this is the critical factor for air freight. But this system depends above all on the shape of the package. The closer to a cube, the more volume for a given rate, while most puzzle boxes of course are a relatively flat shape. But pile them up to make a near-cube, and there you go: shipping five Beverly puzzles costs the same as one Epoch one. And frames will be outrageous...

Supply problems

Meanwhile, the boom in puzzle sales means that we simply cannot get stock of many or even most items. More updates on this to follow...

July — Coronavirus update three

Operating in a pandemic

The situation is improving, gradually, but there is still a bewildering range of restrictions in different countries. Because of this, we are still having to handle all orders manually, meaning delay all round.

And delivery delays continue. For example, airmail packages to Canada seem to take around one month. So as always, if you need a special puzzle by a special day, EMS (or Yamato where not available) is the only choice.

A problem which is likely to be around for a long time is the absence of the SAL service (economy airmail). Jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts are by definition patient, and in exchange for a wait of two or three weeks, SAL offered a very reasonable shipping fee. For example, a 1000-piece puzzle costing 3000 yen could be sent for about 1000 yen. By comparison, the regular airmail rate for the same puzzle is at least 2000 yen. The secret to economy is to order two or more puzzles together – you might like to think of being ready for the next wave of the coronavirus. Puzzles typically weigh just under 1kg, and in almost all cases, a single puzzle by airmail goes at the 1.25kg rate, whereas two puzzles go at the 2kg rate, which is very little extra. Then for real economy (and patience), order four or more together and have them sent by surface; this will come in under the equivalent SAL rate.

We are also still having supply problems, with lots of puzzles out of stock. The manufacturers are working hard to restore stocks after the record-breaking sales during the beginning of the pandemic, but currently supply is simply not keeping up with demand.

Other issues

Tenyo puzzle prices were all officially raised in April, but we have been holding our prices at the previous level. But we cannot maintain this indefinitely, so at the end of July we will be switching progressively to the new prices. If we have given you a quote for an order with the old prices, we will honour this, so if necessary just remind us!

PayPal have recently changed their refund policy, effectively introducing charges for refunds. Previously for special orders we could ask for payment in advance and simply refund for any puzzles that were not available; PayPal's calculation, with a part-refund of the fees, was scrupulously fair. Now, however, if we do that PayPal charges the standard fees for the part of the payment we did not receive, making it difficult to plan on refunding.

Whereas the SAL small packet service which provided such excellent economy is untracked, now every package we send is tracked. So even if severely delayed, we know that a package cannot just disappear.

Brian Chandler

"A kind of blog..." My sporadic comments, mostly topical, on shop matters. (Brian Chandler)

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