Last modified: Saturday, July 28, 2001 7:20 AM
There aren't many web sites devoted to this line of figures, and the really full-blown ones are in Japanese. But they're all interesting browses. Here's a minimal list of the English-language ones to get you started.
Because this is a relatively obscure line of figures, there aren't a huge number of distributors: these are some links I've uncovered, and I make no claims about reliability, etc. As usual, buy at your own risk. My personal experiences with them are described below. Be aware that the prices can vary widely, and it's always best to call or e-mail them for current information.
(08/03/99) It was near torture waiting for my first figure (Cyborg 99) to arrive, mainly because I was expecting an order from a different company that I'd placed a few days earlier. Since I had the UPS tracking number for this order, I followed it daily: According to the UPS tracking, it made swift progress across the USA, but loitered for two days in the UPS depot about an hour & a half away.
I bought Cyborg 99 from an online company in Florida called ToyJapan. At present, they're the only ones I've seen that have this particular NHC99 model. They don't have an online order system, and they don't have a toll-free number, but they do take credit cards. The lady who took the order was very pleasant, with a polite Japanese accent which reminded me of mom. Talk about an authentic experience. Anyway, I can't stress the ease at which this transaction was handled: One evening phone call, a polite person, an e-mail confirmation of shipping along with the UPS tracking number the very next day, and delivery within UPS's promised three business days. Wow. That's textbook for how these things should work.
The first company I placed an order with, Imageanime didn't fare so well. They have a secure online order system, which seems to have some major problems-- first, it sends you an automated e-mail order confirmation which includes all the credit card info which you've just submitted. Kinda defeats the purpose of the secure transaction, huh? Another problem is that the order confirmation doesn't necessarily mean that they know about your order. Several days later, I e-mailed them asking for a shipping confirmation & UPS tracking number. No response. Next, a non-toll free call reveals that they don't know what's going on, and elicits a promise to e-mail or phone... Days later, after another e-mail to them, and they apologize and inform me that they sent the order out the day I called. No UPS tracking # though. I think this company, which has a good Ebay reputation, is just suffering from disorganization, more volume than they can handle, and poor use of their Internet tools. If ordering from them, I'd bypass the "secure" shopping cart until they get it together (any guinea pigs out there?). They never did respond to my concerns about this, and it's not the sort of thing you'd want to risk doing twice.
(08/06/99 -- The order from Imageanime was received, so I'm happy. Logically, one order is not really indicative of their normal practices, but when it happens to you, it makes a pretty lasting impression...)
I attempted to place an order with Just Be Toys, once I found out that they sold this product line-- it wasn't easy to tell from their web site. Unfortunately, an answering machine rattled off an alternate number to call, and I was unwilling to place another long distance call just to hear the message again. Later, after winning a couple of bids at Ebay, I called and got right through. I was stunned because they significantly lowered the amounts that I'd bid. I think I like these guys. My only complaint is that e-mail contact seems pointless, and you get the distinct impression that they'd rather conduct business over the phone.
Another distributor, Fantasia, didn't have working pics, and I wasn't inclined to order anything I couldn't see. However, I later wrote to them and found that they were very responsive-- they replied within the hour, with a very warm & friendly tone. This vendor seems to have a lot of things that other vendors don't have, like the replacement arm sets-- the proprietor was about to leave on a shopping trip to bring back more kewl things from Japan. Once the dust settles, I'll place an order & see what happens.
(10/15/99) Wow, Fantasia delivers! This is a truly unique vendor-- Felix let me know that he was going to Japan and asked me if I wanted anything... I pointed him at a picture in the web site and shazzam!...he brings back the King Walder figures! You can't beat that kind of personalized service. Thanks, Felix! Unfortunately, payment is by money order or check (no credit card), but shipment is very speedy. This kind of personalized service makes up for the fact that the web site is sort of like a ghost ship. ;^) The web site's got the most important thing-- the e-mail address. Once you've got that, you're well-connected for exotic Japanese toy purchases.
General Impressions: There's a pattern here-- few online distributors of this product have taken full advantage of the Internet to make impulse buying easy for the consumer. Maybe that's a good thing though. For their own sakes, these companies shouldn't make it quite so difficult to place an order, especially if they want to remain competitive. A periodic update strategy is essential, as are good images, adequate descriptions, a logical structure, search utilities, and a hassle-free ordering system. It's clear that Internet commerce is part of a shifting paradigm for retail sales, and these are the frontier days. Like Amazon.com, you've got to get in early and do a good job. Competition will only grow, making it more difficult for small businesses to be recognized. I believe that increased governmental intervention is likely --first to solve problems of fraud and inappropriate content-- but leading to other controls, since the tax revenue potential is huge. That will only make it more difficult for the small business owners.