It may seem like a daft thing to write a post about, but it’s not as straightforward as you think. For me, it’s been a steep learning curve over the last couple of years. Having now bought thousands of bricks I’ve had to learn the hard way how to source bricks at the right volume and price. But I think, having tried almost every method, I have some useful tips to share. In descending order of value for money, here are my preferred approaches.
If you’ve not used bricklink and you’re a regular consumer of Lego then you’re missing a trick. Bricklink is basically an online marketplace for buying and selling Lego and allows you to order the specific parts you need. You can buy both used and new parts and generally speaking it’s safe and reliable. As a rule it’s much cheaper than ordering bricks from the official Lego store (although there are a few exceptions). It may seem a little overwhelming at first but once you get the hang of it, you’ll understand its importance.
The first step is to register, and for ease of purchasing it helps to have a paypal account set up. Then, if you’re wanting to buy a number of different parts, set up a wanted list. I set up a separate wanted list for each new build as this makes it easier to manage but you can work well enough with a single list. Parts are categorised into different categories (e.g bricks, slopes, plates, tiles) and it’s worth browsing through these using the catalogue function in bricklink to understand these categories. Once you’ve added the parts you want to the wanted list you can use the autobuy function, where bricklink will identify shops with the bricks you need. You can filter the shops by location (for example by choosing UK or EU based shops only). However using the autobuy function doesn’t necessarily find you the cheapest sources.
To find the cheapest source for a specific part, go to your wanted list and click on the code for the part your interested in (or most interested in). This will bring up a new window with lots of details about the part (what sets you can find it in, known colours, dates of production etc.). At the bottom left you can find a link entitled ‘view price guide’. If you click this link, it will bring up a list of all the online shops selling that part ordered from cheapest to most expensive. If you click ‘sort by currency’ you can more easily see the UK based ones. There are separate listings for new and used parts. Used parts are generally cheaper and in my experience the quality is pretty good. Most sellers of used parts on bricklink will flag up if the parts are badly scratched or discoloured.
Once you’ve identified a seller that has the parts at the price and volume you need, you can then find out what other parts they have by clicking on the ‘wanted’ tab under their shop header, or browse through their shop listings. I try to maximise what I buy from each seller so as to get the best value from the delivery (you’ll need to pay postage costs for your order).
Payment usually involves waiting for the seller to send you an online invoice. In most cases they include a link to onsite payment. Some sellers now also offer immediate payment when you check out. It normally only takes a couple of days for orders to be invoiced and dispatched.
Lego Shop Pick a Brick wall
For some parts, it will be good value for money using the Pick a Brick wall at the Lego Shop if you’re lucky enough to live near to one. If you’ve not used it before, you basically fill a tub with bricks fom a limited selection for £11.99; a bit like the old pick ‘n’ mix sweetie bags at Woollies. For smaller parts this can be good value; you’ll get small plates and bricks for 3p or 4p each on average. However for larger bricks and plates it’s not that cheap. For example, you can just about get 100 2×4 bricks into the tub, giving an average price of around 12p a brick (cheaper than the online Lego shop, but more expensive than bricklink).
The choice of bricks is a bit hit and miss, and you might get lucky and find they have the ones you need. But for me (having limited use for purple jumpers) it’s frustratingly limited in what’s available and not updated regularly enough. Although sometimes I do stockpile parts with the hope of needing them in the future (aside from purple jumpers!). The upside is you get a 75p discount for reusing your tub (remember to bring it!) and you can earn points on your VIP card leading to savings.
Buying used Lego from your Nephew (or another
If you’re lucky enough to have a post-pubescent erstwhile Lego enthusiast in your family who’s a bit strapped for cash, you might be able to come to a satisfactory fiscal arrangement to relieve them of their collection. Be prepared to contend with random bits of broken and discarded toys, fake Lego (eegads) and your own body weight in fluff and Jack Russell fur. But once you’ve got through that you’ll likely find a treasure trove of random parts that will be a godsend when you’re desperately seeking inspiration or that elusive part to finish your build.
Lego online Bricks and Pieces service
Thanks to colleagues in the Tartan Lego Users Group for flagging this source up. This service is different from the pick a brick service (below) but offers more bricks at lower prices. You can find it on the Lego website under customer services (link here). It allows you to search for bricks based on either set numbers or element IDs. The strange thing is that the same parts are available here at different (often cheaper) prices than at the pick a brick area on the site. For example little 1×1 tiles are only 4p each compared with 6p at pick a brick. But frustratingly, some bricks are actually more expensive in the Bricks and Pieces service (1×12 bricks are 43p as opposed to 37p) so you need to double check both sites!
Lego online Pick a brick store
The online Lego pick a brick store is usually quite an expensive way of buying Lego parts; the cheapest prices are 6p a brick for the smallest bricks and plates. But for some parts, and in some circumstances, it is worthwhile. If you’re buying a very large volume you can usually get free delivery (on orders over £50 last time I checked). And some parts seem to be cheaper here than on bricklink; for example mini-figure heads are 8p each which is hard to beat on bricklink. Also, there are certain price categories that have various different sized bricks within them. So a 2 x 2 tile is the same price as a 1×1 tile (6p), despite being four times bigger! And a 1×4 plate is 12p while a 1×8 is 13p. So it’s better value if you buy the larger parts in each price category.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the online pick a brick store is the terrible search functionality. For such a major brand you’d think they could invest a little time and effort into making it a tiny bit more user-friendly. It has overly-long lists of categories, arkane sub-categories (many of which only have one or two things in them) and the requirement to click on the ‘apply’ button every time you make a selection. And don’t even get me started on their colour categories and descriptions! Oh, and sometimes it can take an eternity for the parts to arrive. I don’t know how they do their logisitcs but there’s a lot of room for improvement!
I’ve only ever used ebay a couple of times to buy Lego, and that was only when it was the only place I could get hold of the parts I needed in the right volume. I don’t have a problem with ebay, but it’s certainly not set up for buying Lego and it’s certainly not the cheapest place to buy. In saying that, there is a lot of Lego available on ebay, so who knows you might get lucky.