The challenges of acquiring LEGO® in Latin America 

20 Mar 2022

Written by Alberto Germany from Bricks in Bits

Cover photo: LEGO World Map by dirkb86 on Flickr

Some weeks ago, during a Brick Alliance board meeting we were analyzing our recently launched Polybag Project 2022 and since I am based in Latin-American (I live in Concepción, the second biggest city in Chile) I was asked how do we, Latin-Americans, access LEGO® sets, how complex it is and how cheap/expensive. This is a very complex issue, and one that often comes to live in different forums and something that all communities in which I participate, thanks to my role of an RLFM Ambassador, have to relate with. Therefore, we jumped into the idea of preparing something a little bit more formal and with hands on information, thus we interviewed a bunch of AFOLs form different Latin-American communities in order to answer the big question: How challenging can it be to acquire a LEGO® set in Latin-American? Continue reading so you can learn the results.

We wanted to learn, in a representative way and considering all local realities what the typical AFOL would face when perusing a LEGO® set south of Rio Grande, we contacted AFOLs from Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panamá, Perú, Bolivia y Chile. The análisys of the information obtained from them gave us some insights of LEOG® accessibility in both an individual and regional perspective. The main 3 issues that we face are availability in terms of number of sets most specially form the Adults Welcome line, delay of sets from LEGO® official launch date and they been in the shelves and fundamentally retail price of this sets. In terms of availability, in general all high-end sets such as those from Adults Welcome line, is relatively low and in cases like El Salvador, Bolivia and Argentina is almost nil. In particular, both Bolivia and Argentina face additional challenges, since most of the purchase of this high-end sets is done through foreign stores, so AFOLs have to face additional risks and challenges such as customs, mail issues, exchange rate variation and many others.

Then, since we do not have LEGO Brand Stores in Latam, we usually must purchase sets from retailers, agents or similar. This results in a delay form the date that LEGO® presents a new set until is actually available in stores, delay that can be in average about 3 months or even more. In the case of Adults Welcome, this time can go up to even a year in cases like Argentina and Bolivia, while in Panamá it is usually within the same month it is globally launched. A very interesting point is that all sets show a similar behavior when delay comes into consideration.

One interesting aspect to consider, is that AFOLs in Latin-American must change their purchasing habits to surf all the challenges above, so it is very common to find purchases that are done in foreign stores like EBAY, Amazon and even the online LEGO® store, so there are additional expenses such as customs, freight and taxes that we must pay in order to get that beloved set we want. Reality also showed that taxes and customs may vary from country to country and in some cases (you might be already guessing which one) from agent to agent. Also, our interviewed AFOLs commented us that they complement these abroad purchases by going into flea markets, Facebook sales groups or even informal markets, all ending up in a very risky maneuver. In those countries like Chile, Peru and Panamá where a Certified Store comes into play, we could notice that AFOLs do shop there but with some tendency to avoid them, mainly due to their heavily increased prices.

The most relevant question was made to understand the price difference between countries in a wide variety of LEGO® lines such as Friends, City, Star Wars. The results are overwhelming and when comparing to the difference is astonishing and mind-blowing. We could also verify some of the above, as many of the sets in question where not found in plenty of the cases. In some cases, such as Argentina, there is a wide variability, since most of the sets needed to be accessed through a series of different websites or secondary market, resulting in a high impact in price volatility. El Salvador has a much more complex scenario, since most of the sets where non available. The data shows that on one hand there are countries like Chile and Panamá ratio compared to US online LEGO Store is 1.7 and 2.0 times recommended retail price by LEGO® and there are countries like Bolivia and Argentina were you can pay ut to 6 or 5 times for any particular set. Other relevant finding is that countries that have LCS do show a much concentrated variability in price, thus confirming that in the absence of LCS people tent to purchase in secondary or adjacent sources with increased price, risk and with a heavy impact on what the seller will be willing to receive for any particular set. 

On a separate note, I would like to make a personal statement and on behalf of Bricks in Bits: This issue affects not only AFOLs but also fan media that is trying to create content to their viewers. It also affects us since we do not have complete information as when and at what price a set will arrive to shelves, upsetting our readers. Also, once we finally can put our hands into a particular set, it is no longer news and hype has been diluted. This is mainly due to the amount of content and/or reviews that are already available from other fan media that has early access to copies for reviews.

I would like to personally thank all those that collaborated in the making of this article and specially Ignacio, Khaled, Luigi, Pablo, Gonzalo and Nahuel from BALUG, Argentina; Fabio from LUG Bolivia; Felipe and Walter from CLC Bricks BioBio, Chike; Luis from TicoLUG in Costa Rica; Andrés form Brick Amigos RLUG El Salvador; Manuel, César Cuevas and César Enríquez from La Vida en Bloques, Guatemala Manuel and Alexander from RLUG Panamá; Aldrin, Edgar y from RLUG Perú y Evelyn form LCP. If you would like to know more about what is happening in Latin-America, I invite you to follow and read our RLFM Bricks in Bits, it is in Spanish, but we have a very nice translating tool installed in our website. We are launching the second version of BiBuilders Latinamerica, our main contest that gathers the best MOC builders form all communities in Latin-America in order to find the best of the best and most talented LEGO® Master Builder in Latin-America.