Hot Toys in the UK.

Hot Toys in the UK.

As some of you would have noticed, after 15 years Star Action Figures have finally begun to start stocking Hot Toys figures. As we are reading numerous comments online about pricing in the UK, and receiving a number of emails on the price we are charging, we feel we need to address this. I thought I would write this article (and I call it an article and not a post as its far longer than normal) to explain the situation with Hot Toys and Sideshow, and in particular the pricing in the UK.

 Please bear in mind before you start reading, 4-5 years ago we began making contact with Hasbro Inc about the complete lack of supply in the UK for collectable Hasbro figures, which culminated with a trip off our own back to SDCC 2018 to speak directly with Hasbro Inc  about the lack of stock and the prices in the UK. Within a month or so after this trip, Hasbro UK starting supplying the UK with  "everything", exclusives included, at a regular retail price. The rest is history.  Since then the one man "Fan" rep at Hasbro UK has grown into a team, and the figures are widely available for stores as well as new and old on-line sites alike. Prices went from £30 plus for an exclusive down to £19.99, and presently after the latest price  increase (1st March 2022), the price of a standard figure is £23.99, and at Star Action Figures due to our buying power, we keep this at £21.99 and are always looking to reduce this further. Why am I telling you this? Because before the "fan" branch of Hasbro UK came along, we like everyone else, imported figures. They were not available through official channels in the UK, so importing was the only option. To import a standard run of the mill Star Wars 6 inch Black Series figure today from the same sources most fan sites used before, would cost just over £22. That is more than we are currently charging customers at retail. This is due to poor sterling   exchange rates, and sky high shipping costs which are due to global events. The collectors market in the UK has grown at a very fast  rate over the past 4 years, due to stock being readily available. I  believe the same situation could apply to Hot Toys, if it was ever given a fair chance. The price drop may not be as dramatic as the Hasbro one, but I think Hot Toys will never take off in Europe and the UK, all the time the present situation remains. 

 We have proven with Hasbro, the market is here for dramatic expansion, there are plenty of willing collectors in the UK and with expansion comes the opportunities to buy in bulk and lower prices. Hot Toys though is a tougher nut to crack and there is widespread tax fraud involved. 

 Did you know if we purchased a million pounds worth of Hot Toy figures from Hong Kong and asked the supplier to mark the value at    £10,000, we would be committing VAT fraud? Not only would we be liable for the undeclared VAT bill of £190,000, but we could be also    liable to a 100% fine of £190,000 (so effectively paying VAT twice). 

 Did you also know that a supplier from Hong Kong purposely marking a figure at a reduced price with the knowledge of the purchaser could also be committing VAT fraud. Did you know as an importer, the customer is responsible to pay the VAT at the correct rate. After all, if someone marked the value of a £300 item at £3,000 the buyer would  be first to point this out to customs. The same works in reverse, the buyer is responsible to pay the import duties at the correct rate. As far as VAT is concerned, ignorance is not a defence.  To mark a commercially purchased product as a gift to avoid paying VAT, could also be considered fraud. 

 And alarmingly for anyone who practices this tax avoidance, since  2020, ALL customs parcels from anywhere in the world are digitally   recorded, so if they choose to, HMRC could, at any time, obtain details of all parcels sent from any one who posts from anywhere in the world via couriers. After all, not only is the UK tax payer cheated of tax when companies do this, courier also lose out via their commission for import duties. I am sure they would be only too happy to stop this practice. 

We all like a bargain, but how many of us are willing to take the risk of tax fraud to obtain one?


Now I know I may get attacked from some quarters for saying this, but it's the truth. Recently, one Hong Kong based company went on the attack on Facebook, alleging someone defrauded them, and announced to the world that they will no longer mark down the cost   the parcel to the UK to help people avoid VAT. This was copied to numerous fan sites. Not only will Sideshow likely see this post, tax authorities and license holders are likely to see it too. I would not be happy if a company I had been using  indirectly told everyone they have been helping people avoid paying taxes!


Lets start with Hot Toys and Sideshow. Did you know Sideshow hold the license to sell Hot Toys in Europe and USA. Hot Toys do not. You can usually tell an officially licensed Hot Toys figures in the UK, as it will be shipped (mostly) in Sideshow's brown shipper box, whereas Hong Kong licensed Hot Toys products do not have this shipper box.


Hot Toys do not have the license to ship these to Europe and neither does any Hong Kong seller. Their license is to Asia only. So not only do they avoid VAT and import duties, they also cheat Sideshow  out of the license money all companies pay Lucasfilm/Disney to make   products based on their licenses. 


So what are the risks of buying direct from retailers in Hong Kong/China?


1) They are not officially licensed products for the UK/Europe.


2) Most of the time they do not declare import taxes, which could be considered fraud and leave themselves and importers (customers) open to fines and tax bills.

  3) If a product is damaged you will need to send it back at your cost. You cannot claim import duties back. You will then have to pay import duties on the replacement as well (that's if you are not avoiding these as described above).

4) Typically the Asian market received the first batch of figures made, and the rest of the world gets the second batch. Any issues with the first batch are usually corrected for the second batch, which means we see less problems. 
 5) Sideshow have been closing these sites down over the years and continue to do so, so these Hong Kong sites can, and regularly do,    disappear without trace as any long term collector will know. As most of these  sites charge up front for the figures, or at least a deposit,    if/when they disappear that money you pay is likely lost, unless you are lucky enough to have paid with PayPal within 6 months of the site closing. You will have next to no chance of getting that money back. 
6) The price? If you pay duties as you are required to by law, ten just how cheap is Hong Kong. Based on our prices and one from      a Hong Seller seller:
501st Clone Trooper (the first we had in stock)  £193 in Hong Kong before shipping fees. % import tax £7.72 . VAT 38.60.  Courier      Fee - £15 (can vary up and down)   Price from Hong Kong £254  Star Action Figure Price - £249.95

 501st Trooper Deluxe £242 HK price before shipping.  £9.6  import tax. £48.40 VAT. CF £15. Total £300  SAF UK Price £279.95

Death Watch Mandalorian  £219 HK Price  £8.76 tax. £43.80 VAT.   £15CF  Total £271  UK Price £259.95

 And just to show an example of a more expensive one - Catwoman HK Price £220  £8.80 tax. £44 VAT  £15CF £288  SAF Price £299.95
 So you can see in most cases, if the taxes and fees required by law are paid, the Hong Kong prices would be more expensive  than the UK, with the additional risks from buying from overseas. 
Which is why is it always safer to buy locally where possible, and all Hot Toys/Sideshow products are available in the UK and Europe. But even this is not without problems. All too often UK sites disappear as well. Whether you collect high end Hot Toys figures, or lower cost action figures, if you are a regular on collectors groups on social media, you will know it has unfortunately become a yearly occurrence that a site goes bust and people who have paid deposits lose their money.  There is a simple way to avoid this. Do not pay up front for any collectible. As we understand it, any one can charge any deposit they want. But no business it entitled to keep the deposit should a customer wish to cancel.  Deposits can only be kept for bespoke items, or bulk  quantities brought into stock especially for an order (although that is not really a consumer thing). It cannot be kept for a retail product simply because a customer wishes to cancel. If you place an order and pay a 10% deposit, you are entitled to that back if you cancel, and there are plenty of reputable retailers out there who will do this and refund your deposit. Many don't. 
Most UK sites who have gone out of business in the past few years have tried to grow too fast. They are typically one man bands who start off in the spare room at home. They under cut the established  fan sites, gain a following on social media, and in some cases use     deposit money to grow the business. The problem comes when preorder stock arrives, and they no long have the funds to order it from their supplier. A problem also arises when they get too many orders to fill from home, so need to get premises and staff. This is not cheap and an aggressively low marked price on goods suddenly becomes a loss when you have to start paying for premises, staff, insurance, taxes etc. Anyone who has run a business with staff and premises will know the expenses are endless. 
 There is a reason why they are established stores like Star Action Figures who have been around for the best part of twenty years. There a quite a few of us out there, and they survive because they know the market. It's also because these businesses have grown  slowly and organically, and do not try and corner the market  straight away and sell at prices that cannot be sustained. Too  many new stores start up and close soon after because they have tried to grow too fast. The main tell tales signs are when flash sales at heavy discounts are offered right before a big release, or that a big release is a few week late in arriving at other stores. It can be a sign of having to scramble to raise funds to pay for stock, that customers have already paid towards. It's usually the start of a downward spiral. 
Based on Facebook reports, there may be yet another UK based site looking like it may be going AWOL and not responding to their customers. People are fearing (which now seems to be a yearly event) another site closing and disappearing with peoples hard earned money, and because of this genuine, honest sites, like Star Action Figures, among many others out there, can be tarnish with the same brush by people who are new to them, and don't know their histories. Only last month, we have had a glut of claims on  PayPal, because the 6 month protection limit is being reached for a preorder, and this happens every time another site goes silent  to its customers. These claims are done by customers without contact to us, and for orders that were due 6 or more months  AFTER they placed the order, so these businesses who regularly bus, do effect us all, which is one of the main reasons I am  writing this article. There are many honest sites in the UK, and nearly all the ones who disappeared with customers money usually start with the right intentions, but try and grow too fast and end      up losing everything. There will likely be at least one site go  this way this year, and next year and the year after that,  if the past few years are anything to judge by. It's a never ending circle. The only way for a customer not to lose any money when sites do go bust, is not to pay any money up front for pre-orders. It is that simple. You cannot lose pre-order money if you do not pay it. There are enough sites now offering no deposit pre-orders, so people can stay safe by not paying for orders until they are shipped. 
Some UK sites undercut others for Hot Toys by quite a margin. But will they all fulfil the orders? Some will take non-refundable deposits, which as already explained, they shouldn't do. Reading  comments and speaking to people in the trade, up to 30% of pre-orders for high end Hot Toys end up cancelled.  If you are taking a 10% deposit and keeping this, that's a lot of money, and this will allow you to reduce your prices as you are making money from people you are not even supplying with their collectables. And to say again, tiny margins work if you do not have usual business overheads. But typically those business grow to need premises, staff and other expenses, and suddenly that low mark up to get your order from other sites becomes a loss. 

So please know, if you buy from sellers in Hong Kong you are not only holding back the growth of the UK market, but there is a chance   that you will end up paying more for the figures, either through losing money when the seller is closed down and disappears, or if customs and excise flex their muscles, and that is always a possibility now that all customs records are digitally kept. One of the reasons for this worldwide change in the way customs slips are filled in was for this very reason and as more and more trade goes online, the tax authorities and governments around the world want their taxes, and now have a far easier way of keeping tabs on what is being paid and more importantly ........ what is not being paid. 

So please buy from UK based sellers, or your local market. Even if you don't want to buy from Star Action Figures, support a UK business. This is the only way to bring prices down long term, and see the collectors market in the UK grow, just as it has done with Hasbro in the past 4 years or so. As I say, the change may not be as dramatic as the Hasbro figure changes, but if you do not pay money months in advance you cannot lose your hard earn money if they cease trading. 
At Star Action Figures we do not charge deposits and only charge when the goods arrive. We have an option of up front payment with PayPal, but would much prefer this is not to be used by customers, especially for high end items, however it is there for people who want  to use it. We much prefer you to use the Stripe option (debit/credit card) and pay when your order ships, without any up front payments. We will only sell stock that is officially sourced from UK licensed importers, and only sell stock we have been allocated to us for preorder. In 15 years we have not failed to supply a pre-order placed, even when we had to buy 400 Black Series Emperor and Thrones from Amazon in the States at a loss of around £20 an order when Hasbro "lost" our stock. We will not claim to be "official"  suppliers or stockists of Hasbro or Hot Toys products, because they do not pin that badge on you and call you "official". You are official if you buy official licensed stock from local importers. We only buy official products from official suppliers, and sell  officially licensed goods. So indirectly we are official suppliers, but its not a title these companies hand out to retailers. 
So this is the reason we believe that the Hot Toys and high end collectables market in the UK is being held back. If you want your figure for as little cost as possible, as early as possible, willing to risk committing VAT fraud and the fines that could come with that, and willing to risk overseas sellers being shut down and your money lost, Hong Kong is probably the best place to buy your figures. If you want to support the UK market, be covered by UK laws and not have to worry about losing money you pay out up front, and willing to wait a little longer and pay UK taxes (which by the way you pay on nearly everything you buy in the UK),  then the UK is the place to buy your high end collectables, preferably without the risk of paying any payment in advance. 
 Happy collecting.