You called in sick to work, hang out in the room closest to the front door, you turn down the volume on the TV. What are you waiting for? You are waiting for that package to arrive one of the three big carriers, USPS(United States Postal Service), UPS(United Parcel Service) or FEDEX(Federal Express). What is in that package? The LEGO set that you ordered a few days ago. You have tracked it online at least 50 times since you placed the order so you know where it came from, where it has been and more or less when it will arrive. KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!!! The moment you have been waiting for, it is finally here! You scribble your name on the little hand held scanner handed to you by the carrier and slam the door in his/her face because you are in a hurry to rip open the box to unveil your newest treasure. Your happiness quickly becomes sadness. In your best Darth Vader Episode III voice you yell Noooooooooooooooooo! Your LEGO Box that was inside looks like it has been kicked around more times than a soccer ball during the World Cup. If you have been in the LEGO game for more than a few minutes, this has happened to you, if it hasn’t I am here to bet my entire collection that it will eventually. This is especially traumatic when you demand your LEGO box in pristine condition. These people(me) are usually new to LEGO investing and I am told that the need for a pristine box will eventually subside. Here are some tips to increase your chances of receiving your set in acceptable condition.
First, let’s start with the carriers themselves. I understand that you are at the mercy of the retailer as you cannot choose the carrier, it is chosen by the retailer. The two most commonly used are UPS and USPS. Unfortunately, the best carrier in my opinion is FED EX, and it is the carrier least often used by the major online retailers. There seems to be some debate whether the LEGO box is damaged prior to being shipped or damaged while in transit. Sometimes there are clues as to where it happened, but nothing concrete. In my opinion, most of the time the damage happens during transit, I have no evidence, just my gut feeling.
The major online retailers overall do an OK job at packing the sets. I have had sets ranging from arriving in the brown outer box from the LEGO factory, to a set arriving in a box 6 times bigger than the actual set with absolutely no packing materials inside. Here is a list of the 4 major LEGO retailers and tips. Keep in mind that these are suggestions.
Amazon: Sign up for Amazon Prime, the main advantage is that you get free two-day shipping on all items you order, the less time it takes from warehouse to your house, is less time it is bouncing around in the back of a carrier's truck. Prime does cost an annual fee, around 100 bucks, but if you order a lot from Amazon, it will pay for itself in no time. In fact, many times, you will receive the item in one day if ordered early in the morning. Only buy from Amazon direct. If your item is damaged when it arrives, they will work with you very diligently, they pay for return shipping and will usually send you out a new item before you even send the damaged one back. Dealing with private sellers can be a hassle sometimes and there is always the chance of getting scammed in some way or another. Amazon does guarantee every purchase, even those from third-party sellers, but sometimes it takes a bit longer to work out an exchange/refund.
Toys R Us: Despite their markup, Toys R Us has always been a popular choice for LEGO sets, mainly because of their great selection and also because of the promotions they run on a regular basis, Buy 2 Get 1 Free, Buy One Get One 40%/50% off, free shipping, etc... All sets seem to be packed differently so it is hard to tell how they will arrive, but I've had good success on most occasions with Toys R Us. The best bet(not a popular one) would be to choose expedited or next day delivery usually which comes by FEDEX. It will take money from the overall profit of your set, but if you choose the right ones, it shouldn’t hurt you too bad. Of course, there is always the option of actually picking the LEGO set up at local Toys R Us location, but not all LEGO sets are available in the local stores, so that might not be an viable alternative.
S@H(LEGO SHOP AT HOME): This is the store on the LEGO website that is usually the best bet when it comes to condition of the box. They do a good job overall and seem to take more pride in handling and shipping that other retailers. They usually don't over pack LEGO sets and many times ship boxes individually in large, pre-fit shipping boxes. Larger sets like the 10179 Millennium Falcon and 10030 Imperial Star Destroyer came this way. This is not shipping related, but make sure you sign up for the VIP program if you chose to buy your LEGO sets from S@H, because you get 5% back to be used on later purchases. It is free to do so and it pretty much equals the cost of shipping, if free shipping is not available at the time.
eBay: While not considered a primary retailer like Amazon or S@H, I felt I should include them because eBay is where you can find great deals and also where you can get majorly scammed if you aren’t careful. This is where you get all those LEGO sets that have hit EOL(End of Line...or in layman's terms, retired) and you just never got around to getting it while it was on store shelves. There are a variety of sellers on eBay, from large primary retailers like Toys R Us to small Mom and Pop sellers, selling one or two items at a time. You see the best and worst of people on eBay, so be very careful when buying sets on eBay. Always look at the sellers feedback, I spend hours looking on eBay for steals on LEGO sets, a lot of that time is looking at seller's feedback. Look for the top-rated sellers, getting this distinction from eBay does not come easy, a seller has to make hundreds to thousands of high-rated transactions, including outstanding shipping ratings before they can be included in this group. Always ask for more pictures of the item if you are unsure or cannot tell the condition of the box from the pictures provided. Always email seller prior to purchasing and explain that you are a collector/investor and the condition of the box is a factor. You can ask for expedited shipping and usually the seller will not have a problem in accommodating your request because you will be the one paying for the shipping. The best way I have found to get a set in the condition you want it is to buy from a collector who shares the same love for LEGO that you do.
Speaking of eBay sellers and in some cases, sellers from the popular LEGO parts site, Bricklink.com, there is one request that you should make of them when buying any MISB LEGO set...”Please place the LEGO box in an outer shipping box!” You don't know how many times I have received MISB LEGO sets wrapped only in brown shipping paper. The sets are wrapped carefully and neatly in brown, thin paper in most cases, but get easily crushed by Postal workers(USPS is the main shipper for eBay items). The inexperienced seller assumes the LEGO box will be fine with just the brown paper protection, but 99% of the time, the LEGO box arrives damaged when shipped in this way. Tell the sellers that you are a collector and box quality is important and to please ship the LEGO box within a proper-sized outer shipping box. Most sellers will do this with few issues.
Speaking of retailer shipping, this leads us to a few tips about shipping LEGO sets from a seller's point of view(eBay and Bricklink sellers):
- As stated earlier, use a properly sized outer shipping box to ship every LEGO set. The USPS Flat Rate Boxes are excellent choices for small boxes. ULINE is another choice for larger boxes. I like to reuse old Amazon or LEGO shipping boxes to ship a LEGO box.
- Wrap the LEGO box in bubble wrap, then use shipping peanuts or newspaper to pack the LEGO set within the shipping box. Newspaper seems to work better IMO and is a lot cleaner.
- Take pictures of the LEGO set before packaging, within the box and after when the box is sealed. This helps protect you from unscrupulous buyers and careless shippers.
- Use the proper type of shipping tape on the outer box and don't be cheap about it.
- Include a receipt within the box, notifying the buyer who sent the LEGO set and to thank them for their purchase. This is a nice touch and helps improve communication and feedback.
- I like to use the USPS as a shipping company. They offer the best deals. The Flat Rate Boxes are a fantastic value.
In closing I would like to say that there are many other places to purchase LEGO sets online and some of the tips I gave can be applied, as they are not only for the stores I mentioned. Most seasoned veterans in the game will find most of this article ‘’common knowledge.” This article was meant for LEGO investment novices to use a reference point when searching for their potential purchases. Personally, I demand my boxes(for now) in pristine condition. I only purchase in store, which allows me to hand pick the box I want and guarantee me the perfect box for my investment. There are issues with buying in store though. Number one, I cannot buy an older retired LEGO set in a Walmart or Toys R Us. Also, I might miss out on some fantastic on-line sales. Finally, I miss out on not paying state sales tax(in the US) if the LEGO set is bought from a retailer from another state. Do I pay retail all the time? Yes, unless there is a sale in a retail brick and mortar store. Do I miss all the big on-line sales? Yes. I am OK with that though because I know that the sets I do choose will make me money and I believe that a MISB LEGO set is worth more than a damaged LEGO set that was discounted. Bottom line is that getting a set shipped to my house is a crap shoot……and I don’t play craps.
Editor's Note: Here is another great article written by one of our members, stephen_rockefeller. Stephen also received 500 BrickPoints for having this article published on the site. Thanks for writing a great article that I am sure is beneficial knowledge to many of our members! -Jeff