On Becoming a Cho-Shopper
Rather than delve into some incendiary topic for my column this month, I've decided to present something a little more practical for our loyal readers. After the deluge of gift-bestowing holidays in December, some of us may find that we have a surplus of gift cards, Christmas cash, or items we'd simply like to exchange for others. Others, like myself perhaps, may be hiding under couches, fearful of the terrible wrath of an unforgiving credit card bill. Either way, it's a new fiscal month and thus time to either redeem some holiday money or add to the unmoving mountain of debt, comforted by the fact that you've earned one more month to happily pay it off.
So, for my inaugural column here at Animefringe, I'm going to treat everyone to a quick course on the proper way to spend your hard-earned dough (as well as holiday money) on the things we spend it on the most. That is, anime, manga, and video games. That's right, today, you will learn how to become a Cho (Super)-Shopper. Doubtless, there are many great deals out there of which I'm not aware as well as excellent stores I've never even heard of, and I can't claim to be the best shopper out there, but I'll try to offer some helpful hints so as to maximize the amount of merchandise you'll receive for what you have.
For those of you who may not know much about me, I suppose I should shed some light on my qualifications as a retail specialist. Since early 1998, I've had a job at a local Waldenbooks here in St. Louis (visitors are welcome to seek me out at Jamestown Mall; I guarantee there's not a larger selection of manga in any chain bookstore within 100 miles - we even carry anime!) Just last year I graduated from St. Louis University with a degree in Computer Science, but due to the slow job market (and the fact that I'm building a house for my parents with every spare moment I have), I'm still at Waldenbooks. It's not bad being crazy-overqualified for a relatively easy job that offers a nice employee discount, especially when I buy as many books as I do. Just for reference, I've purchased 300 manga from my store in the past year. As if that weren't enough, I also bought more than 150 anime DVDs, and more than 50 video games, along with a few new game systems.
And to further enhance the clarity of my situation, my parents do NOT give me money for anything (I'm mostly self-sufficient, thanks to a steady diet of ramen noodles), and Waldenbooks doesn't pay me any greater than average. Plus I'm paying off a $9000 college loan, as well as my credit card bills. Trust me, when I talk about credit card debt, I'm only joking. The day I pay interest on a credit card is the day I cancel it.
What's my trick? How do I get so much neat stuff on such a limited income? Before we get going, it's a good idea to know what a product's MSRP is. That is, the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price. That's the price companies set for their products, and typically, your average retail shop will get these products at about half that cost. So a good indicator of the quality of a sale is how close to 50% off the vendor's price is. Usually, you can find anything at half its MSRP, and clearance sales feature products at an even greater price reduction.
Now that we're well versed in retail lingo, let's start with DVDs. Your first stop should be www.dvdpricesearch.com, an unbiased website that sifts through a rather comprehensive list of online vendors for the lowest price of any DVD you may be looking for. The site is updated daily with coupon and sale news, and thanks to its dependability, I tend to check it whenever I'm online. I tend to like everything, so I usually buy any cheap anime title I see, even when it's volume 6 of an 18 volume series. Yet, being a cho-shopper doesn't stop at finding single titles inexpensively. After finding a deal that's too hard to pass up, the next trick is to find out if the vendor has any online coupons, and then you should search for other low-priced discs of interest using dvdpricesearch's advanced search features. That way, you can get a bundle of stuff cheap, and if you spend enough, you can even get away with free shipping.
Other times, you'll have to scour the web on your own in order to sniff out a deal. I check www.animenation.com and www.rightstuf.com whenever I'm online, thanks to their large selection and frequent bargains. Animenation always has a large selection of "Red-Hot Deals," a group of heavily discounted products just screaming to be purchased. The Right Stuf tends to be better as far as insane deals go, and they also offer a frequent buyer club (called "Got Anime!") that gives shoppers an additional 10% off regularly priced merchandise. People who read this earlier in the month should go check out The Right Stuf's current sale, which only goes through the 8th of January. They're taking 40% off of all Media Blasters DVDs, so now is a great time to pick up whatever discs you need in the Rurouni Kenshin or Rayearth TV series. That sale also works in conjunction with their frequent buyer discount card. And no, they're not paying me to say that, I'm just trying to spread the anime love. There are plenty of other great anime stores to be found online, and I apologize to those of you I haven't mentioned by name. The internet is simply too big a place for me to mention everyone!
The vendors mentioned above are pretty good for manga sales, as well, though there are other venues that may be better at times. It's rare to see a site offer manga below the MSRP, though Things From Another World (www.tfaw.com) will from time to time. Amazon.com tends to have books at reduced prices, as well, though the cost of shipping can throw that out of balance. This is where dynamic shopping skills come into play, for now, to find some of the best deals, you must venture into the physical world to find some bargains! If you're in any sort of chartered club that deals with anime or manga, you can get a 20% club discount at any Waldenbooks free of charge with reasonable proof of the club's existence.
Many stores offer a discount card, as well, which is worth it if you're planning on getting a lot of manga. I believe Borders has a card that costs $25 annually, but then gives 10% off at their store. B. Dalton's has a card that also works at Barnes & Noble as well as their affiliated web site, giving 10% for it's somewhat hefty $35 annual price tag. Waldenbooks' card costs $10 each year, and it also gives 10% off. I can't speak for Borders or the family of Barnes & Noble stores, but I'm pretty sure they can order pretty much any book in print, free of charge, as can Waldenbooks. I'm not too familiar with Books-a-Million or other large bookstores since they're not in my area, either, as I've only visited them on vacations and whatnot.
Your local comic book shop is a great place to look for Japanese comics, and they tend to be the most rewarding to support since you know where the money is going. Interestingly enough, it seems that BGI (the parent company of Borders and Waldenbooks) is looking for a way to capitalize on the recent explosion in anime and manga popularity, for our store database now lists a large number of wallscrolls, anime soundtracks, and anime merchandise never before seen in chain bookstores. There are rumors of the establishment of a new chain by the name of Otaku somewhere in America, as well, which is intriguing news indeed, but only time will tell if such a store will ever exist. In any case, there are deals out there waiting to be found, and the principle is the same - find the greatest amount of stuff for the lowest price!
Getting a deal on video games can be a bit more complex than other products, especially because they're more costly than movies or books when new. Though, as with most products, I'm a sucker for them when they get below a certain price point. I only pay full price for major must-have games (or games I'm reviewing for Animefringe), and even then I'll only go to a store that has some sort of bonus with the product. I've never found a fantastic online store for video games, so most of my best purchases have been made in physical retail stores. Typically, it's the big warehouse-style stores such as Best Buy, Circuit City, or Toys R Us that have certain titles at liquidation prices. Target is another good place for occasionally cheap games. The week they were released, Target had both the new Zelda and Yoshi's Island Game Boy Advance remakes for $19 each. I bought them both, even though I still don't own a GBA. When that GameCube adaptor comes out, however, nothing will hold me back from reliving those classics from the days of the glorious SNES.
If you're not too concerned about the condition of your products, you can always search for used items. The most convenient spot to look for used goods is on Ebay, of course, though Amazon.com has an increasingly large selection of secondhand items as well. However, when searching for stuff on Ebay, one must be wary of bootlegs. All-too-often, if something is extremely new and yet mysteriously cheap, then it's most likely a bootleg. I love fansubs and I download MP3s like there's no tomorrow, but I always eventually buy the products I download when they become available for sale. I have no desire to line the pockets of some Chinese fatcat simply because I want to save a few bucks on a DVD. The quality of most bootlegs, from the technical aspects to shoddy translations, is almost always inferior to the real deal, and I would never willingly support such products. There. Now I'm getting off the old soapbox.
In addition to Ebay or Amazon, local stores can also be a treasure trove of used DVDs or manga, depending on where you live. This is a great way to find video games on the cheap as well, but make sure you check the games for surface scratches. Also, if the games are cartridge-based, remember that an old game with battery-backed memory may no longer be able to save. Not that playing Zelda III in one sitting is a bad thing, but sometimes you really get what you pay for.
Well, my time is running out here. Once again, I'd like to make sure everyone is aware that I didn't mention any of the stores above out of any sort of bias towards or against them. I've had good and bad experiences with all of them, so typically I'd say go to the places that have the lowest prices, even if the people there are clueless. ("Oh, there's no difference between the GameCube, Playstation 2, or X-Box. They're just different sizes.") Sometimes, however, I'm willing to spend a little bit more if the employees at a certain location have been particularly nice. Electronics Boutique doesn't have the greatest prices, but there are some really nice employees at the store near my house, so I'll go there from time to time to show they're appreciated.
It's not uncommon to find a kindred spirit in one of the real-world stores you may be visiting, and by becoming more than just a random customer to a person, you'll find the employees are far more willing to remind you of upcoming sales or deals. Yet, sometimes, you simply can't beat the selection or price of buying items online. Either way, I hope that this column has left some of you a little better prepared to wage the never-ending war against your wallets.