We’ve long grumbled in the UK about the prices of Pilot pens, casting covetous glances across the Atlantic whenever anyone speaks of the great value of Pilot’s fountain pens, or feverishly calculating shipping, customs charges and waiting times of Japanese imports. Things have come to a head recently with the sudden disappearance of some of Pilot’s best pens from UK stores: the Coleto, Juice and Kakuno, in particular apparently because they either don’t pass safety standards for sale in the UK or Pilot haven’t even tried.
In an effort to bring some objectivity to proceedings I looked up online prices in the UK and USA (looking at the most popular retailers and picking the cheapest price). We have to pay VAT(at 20%) in the UK and neither Pilot nor retailers can do anything about that so I took it off before I compared prices.
Fountain pen prices are between 40% and 58% higher in the UK compared to the USA. Iroshizuku ink is 20% higher. This is without VAT: to actually buy these pens, we need to pay an extra 20% on top of this.
I had a look at the cost of importing from Japan via Amazon and this is much cheaper, even if you get stung for customs charges.
For example, the Custom 74 costs £110 in the USA, £185 in the UK (including £30 VAT) and £76 from Japan (including £19 customs charges).
You can see the spreadsheet with all these calculations here. This spreadsheet also has a price comparison for another Japanese brand, Platinum. Platinum prices are lower in the UK than in the USA and in some cases lower than importing from Japan.
This shows that Pilot UK must be setting extremely high wholesale prices.
Pilot can of course decide how much they want to sell their pens to retailers for and no-one is forcing anyone in the UK to buy them. If a Pilot Custom 74 is worth £185 to you then that’s what it’s worth. Despite that, Pilot’s attitude to the UK, as demonstrated by their wholesale pricing, is an issue that should be highlighted.
Once you’re aware of the discrepancy in pricing, you can’t escape the feeling that you are being ripped off if you buy a Pilot pen from a UK retailer. You’re not being ripped off by the retailer, you are being ripped off by Pilot who are forcing retailers, if they are to make a profit, to sell you a pen (the Vanishing Point) that is worth £59 in Japan but seemingly £124 (not including VAT) in the UK. For the exact same pen.
Worse is the situation UK retailers find themselves in as a consequence. I don’t mind paying a little extra to buy from the UK. I don’t mind, too much, paying VAT and I don’t mind paying a little more to support UK vendors. I get the pen a little quicker and I have the backup of good customer service if I need it. There’s no way I can justify spending twice as much, though. Then there are pens I’d like that aren’t even available from a UK retailer. This is a completely unfair position in which to put these businesses.
I’ve got several Pilot pens (with some reviews of them coming up here soon, ironically) but unless they change their pricing policy I won’t be buying any more. Instead, I’ll continue to support retailers by spending my money on other brands.
I contacted Pilot who replied and promised a response before publication date. I didn’t get that response. I’ll publish it here if it ever arrives.
Pilot did reply but the email went to my Spam folder and I didn’t see it. Many apologies to Pilot. You can read their full reply here.