Friday, October 19, 2012

Sakura Box Mixed Candy Bag (service review)

When I was still living in Japan, no small number of people contacted me about acquiring the snacks that I reviewed for them. Mostly, they wanted me to pick up some item of interest and mail it to them at cost, plus possibly a little something for my trouble. On the surface, this didn't sound like much effort. I was going to be out shopping anyway, after all, and how hard is it to throw something in a mailer or box and send it off in the mail? Well, it's a lot more trouble than you think.

During my first ten years in Japan, my husband and I sold collectible records, posters, and music-related memorabilia by mail order. I have copious experience with what it takes to run a mail order business and it is not simple. The fact that the internet as it currently exists was not around made it more complex as I had to create and mail out catalogs and sales sheets, but it is still troublesome in a variety of ways even with the ease that comes form online listings of ones products.

First of all, shopping for yourself is not the same as shopping for others or with the interests of the customer in mind. Second, finding, purchasing, and putting together packages takes a lot of time. Finally, it is no small feat hassling with the post office portion. All of this was a huge time sink hole for us and customers do not view your time as having any particular value and do not want to pay you for it. No, the customer looks only at two things - perceived value of item and the cost of postage. They don't think about the value of your time, cost of packaging (boxes, tape), or your profit margin.

Running a mail order business of any sort can be a thankless task, especially when poor handling causes damage to goods in transit despite ones best efforts to pack well. Customers used to complain bitterly about my "overcharging" on postage when my husband and I busted our behinds to charge as close to cost as humanly possible. For our business, which was high profit, low volume sales of very rare items, this was worthwhile until eBay created a new paradigm that dramatically lowered profit margins. For something like Japanese snacks, which are a low profit margin, potentially high volume item, well, I wasn't going to touch that with a 10-foot pole. Sakura Box, however, has decided that it's up to the task that I was not.

My focus on this review is on the service Sakura Box offers. I will review the items they sent me throughout several other reviews and note that they were provided courtesy of them. When I say "courtesy", I mean that I did not pay for what I was sent. That means that its up to my readers to determine the value of their service based on what I say here and what they see in pictures. As someone with access, though more limited now than in the past, to Japanese snacks, I cannot evaluate the value of the contents the same as those who may have zero access to such items. Europeans used to pony up handsome sums for the Japanese records my husband and I offered because they couldn't get them anywhere else. Those who lived in cities with well-stocked second-hand shops viewed our prices differently. Boy howdy, did some of my customers complain bitterly about prices while others expressed extreme gratitude for what they could buy. Value is a highly subjective thing.

Note that the postage on this is $5.35. I always note such things since people whined so much about the postage costs I charged them. Shipping from Sakura Box is included in the basic price (essentially, free shipping).

Before I get any further, let me talk a bit about what Sakura Box does. They offer a range of packages that result in the customer receiving a variety of a certain category of items. The item I received (gratis) was the monthly mixed candy bag. Each month, the selection is different, so you should get new surprises each time. They also offer a cookie box, bath salts, and a spa box. If you like something in the samples included in your boxes, there is the possibility of contacting them and getting more of it.

Perfectly packed in pink tissue paper. I envy this level of neatness.

My experience with my order started with my name being entered into the system like any other customer. I received a confirmation e-mail for the order followed by a shipping confirmation message. I liked that they were on the ball with this even though they are a small organization. It reflects a professional attitude. I've purchased from major companies who did not confirm my order or shipping even though they have access to automated software and more resources. Note that Sakura Box is ran by a couple who are looking to provide access to Japanese things to those who can't get them.

Peeling back the paper.

The box was carefully and nicely packed with pink tissue paper and has a small hand-written card in it. Looking at the handwriting on the card made me smile because there is a particular way that Japanese women tend to write. I'm guessing they are taught this way to print when they are in school. It's always very neat and has a particular look to it. Seeing the card took me back to Japan in the best possible way.

Inside the box is, as promised, an assortment of small and medium-size goodies. All of them arrived in perfect condition despite the postal service's best effort to ding one side of their own packing box. It's hard to speak to the mix of candy included in terms of this review because it will change every month. One of the things about buying a surprise box is that, well, every time it is a surprise. I can say that parts of this were more welcome than others in terms of my personal tastes. For instance, I can buy enormous bite-size bags of Hi-Chew at Costco and am not the biggest fan of Hi-Chew anyway, so this would not be something I value. I was, however, delighted to see the Morinaga caramels, Pure gummy candies, and Choco Baby. I am quite interested to try the lemon and ramune pressed powder candies, but am rather so-so on the boxes of fruit gum and hard candies. Since this was my only experience with their assortment, I don't know if there was little chocolate included because of the hot weather or if they tend not to include chocolate because it doesn't travel well.

As a service, I see this as one akin to the "cheese/wine/fruit/cookie" of the month club sort of things. You essentially treat yourself to a surprise package. You don't have to buy every one every month once you purchase one, but Sakura Box will send an e-mail to let you know that a new one is going to be available and you can opt to order one if you please (but they won't automatically send one). As someone who declined to be a personal shopper for those who wanted Japanese snacks, I appreciate the effort that has to go into providing this service and think that those who love all things Japan yet have no access may find this a very useful, and frankly, fun, option.

For me personally, frankly, I would not avail myself of it, though I do love the idea of a surprise package of Japanese goodies. There's something about not making the choices yourself which makes it feel like a gift rather than an order. There are several reasons why I am unlikely to buy a monthly candy box. The primary one is that this is not all "new" to me. I lived in Japan for 23 years and have written this blog for over 3 years and have gone out of my way to try new things. The chances that Sakura Box can provide someone like me with sufficient novelty is quite low. About half of the items are ones I've already had from my experiences in Japan (though only one was reviewed here). Second, I am fortunate that I live in an area with ample access to Japanese markets and live close to Daiso Japan and Nijiya Japanese market. Finally, I have contacts in Japan who could send me whatever I want whenever I wanted. Not everyone is so lucky as me.

I simply am not the proper audience for this service. I'm a very, very unusual audience. My readers, however, who sometimes asked me to shop for them when I lived in Japan, may find it of far greater utility. Certainly the service is excellent. They communicate well, pack well, and I received my box very, very quickly. The only question those who want to use the service have to ask themselves is whether they value the experience enough to pay $22.50 for the given selection, and that's a question for each particular individual to ask and answer.


Ariake said...

Hi there-- I have been following your blog for months, but never comment. Glad you are keeping it up even though you are back in the States. I was really excited to find out about this service through your blog and ordered a box from them right away, so I suppose their promotional effort paid for itself! Thanks for your reviews-- they are great to read.

Orchid64 said...

I'm so pleased that you found it helpful and I'm sure you'll be pleased with their attentive service!

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Rodzilla said...

I wonder if the items are actually coming from Japan, or if they're getting them from a Japanese market in Cali. Either way, it would appeal to anyone in an area without easy access to Japanese foodstuffs.