While the FBC (Foreign Buyer's Club) has been mentioned in my posts many times in the past, I haven't really explained exactly what it is and what you can get out of it. Part of the reasons is that I don't want to be seen as advocating it (though there's no reason not to do so) and part of it is that we've been a part of it for so long that I take it for granted everyone knows what it is and how it works.
The FBC started in 1987 and my husband and I joined it around 1989. Around that time, it was mainly selling foreign food of the sort you would never find in Japanese markets, even in the import sections. Initially, you could only buy food by the case so you had to be sure that you bought something that you liked and either lasted a long time or could be consumed rapidly. Now, some items can be purchased as single items rather than by the case but they are more expensive on a per item basis. My guess is that cases of popular items can be broken up at FBC's warehouse and parceled out to various customers but less popular items need to be sold as whole cases so the remainder won't be sitting around until they expire.
The FBC has diversified and expanded their repertoire of items over the years. Most people who have heard about it are familiar mainly with their "General Store". This carries the largest amount of items but orders from it take 4-6 weeks to arrive. There's also a "Deli" that carries a lot of fresh and frozen food as well as some of the items that are usually sold through the General Store. Items from the Deli ship in about a week. There's also a "Learning Center" which ships quickly as well and carries books, magazines, and learning materials for kids. People who work as English teachers for children might find it an interesting resource. There's also a "Brit Shop" which carries a selection of British items but I've never used it.
The "club" part of the FBC involves paying a membership fee of 1000 yen a year to join. This fee gets you 3 printed catalogs a year, intermittent flyers about holiday sales (like the Easter one shown above - click the picture to see a legibly large version), and a membership number to allow your orders to be tracked and processed more easily. The membership fee is clearly designed to cover the cost of printing and shipping catalogs and flyers and not as a cash cow for the FBC. If you don't want to join, you don't have to. You can still buy from them and pay a 5% handling fee on your order(s).
My husband and I don't tend to use the printed catalogs much as it's better to use their on-line database or download their frequently updated downloadable catalogs (Excel files). Since many items seem to come and go, using the on-line resources reduces the chance that you'll order something and find out it's unavailable and need a substitute.
The main benefit of the FBC for foreigners is two-fold. You can get things you can't get here like large quantities of various artificial sweeteners or numerous varieties of breakfast cereals. It's an especially good resource if you are interested in health and diet food items in particular. The second main benefit is that you also can get a great many items much more cheaply through the FBC than you can pick them up in Japanese stores.
Since my husband and I have a long track record dealing with FBC, I can say that our experiences have always been pretty good though not always perfect. We mainly buy food items but also bought a region-free DVD player and a crock pot from them. If items are damaged or arrive in an inedible state, they will always either refund your money or replace the items (your choice). If orders are delayed because of a bureaucratic problem, they have been known to send free gift items to apologize (usually an item from the order you're waiting overly long to receive) though such delays are very infrequent.
The only problem we've had with the FBC is that e-mail orders seem to land in their spam filters and be lost. It could be we were just triggering something and this is an atypical situation or that their filters are set to scrutinize too intensely and not tweaked very frequently. We call to check on the status of any e-mailed order every time now.
There have also been some annoyances which are beyond the FBC's control which I'll mention because they are part of the consumer experience. One of the biggest has been the appearance of a very popular item coupled with its lightning-fast disappearance. While the vast majority of items are around for the duration, it can be frustrating when something which was popular in the U.S. and never made it to Japan shows up and you're told it's no longer available as soon as you order it. I believe this sort of problem happens when FBC has a distribution channel which opens and dries up quickly.
With Costcos opening in Japan, we've been using the FBC less than we used to but it's, to some extent, apples and oranges. The FBC deli actually carries a small selection of Costco items (for an increased price) for those who live too far away from one to shop at one of the 5 Costcos in Japan. The FBC's selection is far greater than what you get at Costco and they carry brands you'd never see at Costco Japan. My husband and I mainly get Splenda, Da Vinci syrup, deodorant (which is vastly cheaper and in larger sticks than you can get in Japan), cold cereal like Special K or Cheerios, Guiltless Gourmet (non-fried) tortilla chips and (diet) root beer from the FBC.
If you're going to be in Japan for longer than a year and have had to put your family or friends out to send you items from home, you might want to consider looking into the FBC as a way of getting some of the things you miss from back home.