Random Thoughts – Randosity!

Hot Collectible Toys and Scalping

Posted in business, collectibles, scalping by commorancy on October 4, 2015

I’m tired of it and I really don’t much tolerate it anymore. I’m a memorabilia collector, specifically film franchises and video games. Yet, what I find continually frustrating is the hoarders and scalpers. You know, you go to the store looking for something to be there, but there’s nothing there. But, then you find that collectible on eBay or Amazon in droves marked up to at least twice the price. I’m sick of this. Let’s explore.

Collectibles

Star-Wars-TFA-Elite-Series-Captain-Phasma-1aStar Wars The Force Awakens is right around the corner (December 18th) and the toys and other collectibles are now hitting the store shelves. Yet, you’ll be lucky to find much of it due to hoarders / scalpers. In the 70s, scalping was limited to concert tickets. Since Kenner introduce Star Wars toys, these same folks have now jumped from ticket scalping to collectible scalping. A practice of which I do not approve. I realize what it is. People want to make a few bucks on something. I get it. But, it’s not exactly fair to those of us who actually want to find the item in the store and buy it at retail price. We don’t want to have to resort to shopping on eBay from some would-be scalper at hugely inflated prices.

I really dislike heading over to eBay and finding page after page after page of that item marked up by 50% or more. It would be great if stores could do something about this. I’m glad to see that at least one store is doing something about this. Enter Toys R Us. While it may not be the perfect answer, it’s at least a step in the right direction.

Skylanders Superchargers

NitroStealthStingerMany stores are now releasing exclusives for the Skylanders franchise. For example, Toys R Us tends to get Legendary exclusives. The Legendary Skylanders are typically painted navy blue and gold. Target gets the Nitro series. This series also looks like the Legendary series, dark blue and gold. Sometimes the stores get individual characters, sometimes they get combo packs and sometimes they get play sets. For example some Supercharger exclusives this year include:

  • Target => Nitro Stealth Stinger Vehicle
  • Best Buy => Steel Plated Smash Hit SteelPlatedSmashHit1Legendary-Hurricane-Jet-Vac-02a
  • Toys R Us
    • Legendary Hurricane Jet-Vac
    • Legendary Sky Racing Pack (includes Legendary Astroblast, Legendary Sun Runner and Sky Trophy)

I don’t think Walmart has ordered any Superchargers exclusives yet, but I could be wrong. Though, it is guaranteed there will be more store exclusives in the coming months.

Star Wars The Force Awakens

Since Disney has now taken this franchise and plans on reviving it with at least three new films over the next several years, we will see all sorts of Star Wars merchandise and toys hitting the store shelves, including exclusives at the Disney store. Yes, the Disney store has its own line of exclusives. Specifically, a line of die cast 6.5 inch figures labeled Elite Series (see Phasma above).

Again, you’ll be lucky to find these Elite Series at the Disney store or online. In general, heading into any of these retailers, you’re not likely to easily find these exclusives. Why?

Scalpers and Collectibles

The primary problem is that stores order far too little stock for the number of people who want to buy them. Secondarily, scalpers make off with at least half, if not 3/4 of the limited stock fully intending to place the items onto eBay or Amazon at well inflated prices. Likely only 25-50% of the stock (perhaps even less) actually makes it into actual collector’s hands at retail price. The rest of that stock makes its way onto eBay, Amazon, Craigslist or into comic book shops on consignment at sometimes double the retail price.

Scalping isn’t the intent of these collectibles. The intent is to get the collectibles into the hands of collectors who will actually appreciate the toys and who want to display them, open them and enjoy them. Not into the hands of scalpers who don’t care about the item and whose only motive is to make some quick cash from selling the item.

Let’s understand, though, speculating that a toy will make you any money is about as risky as taking your money to Vegas and playing the slots. You might get something, you might not. You might end up keeping those toys as worthless. What may seem scarce today may end up being the peg warmer tomorrow after the mass shipments arrive. Of course, if you return the item to the retailer before the return period expires, you can get your money back from the store. But, that holds stock back from those who were looking for it. As a scalper, you should be careful about returns. Excessive returns could flag your credit card.

Countering the Scalpers

Because stores can’t know purchasing intent of any individual, they must sell the item to the person with the cash. So, there’s really no way to know if a person is a scalper or if they are a legitimate collector. However, there are other ways to counter this problem and Toys R Us has found the perfect way to do it… by opening an eBay store.

LegendarySkyRacingPackaFor example, Toys R Us’s Legendary Sky Racing Pack (mentioned above) is available exclusively on eBay from Toys R Us at retail price ($35.99). In among the listings for this pack, you’ll see a lot of eBayers with their scalped packs marked at $50, $60 and even $70 plus shipping. You may or may not find this pack in the Toys R Us stores and it is definitely not on their web store. It seems to be exclusively available in the eBay store. For collectors, this is the perfect counter to would-be scalpers. As long as Toys R Us continues to operate an eBay store putting ‘hot toys’ up at retail prices, this will undermine the excessive pricing of those attempting to scalp on eBay. This means those other sellers may have to pull their listing down and will hopefully discourage future scalping attempts.

I wholeheartedly applaud Toys R Us taking this action. It’s not only ingenious selling, it’s the perfect way to stop this problem. I wish even more stores would do this to thwart retail scalping at its source. By not placing that stock onto their web site and instead placing these ‘hot items’ into their eBay store at retail prices, this means is that would-be scalpers have to either drop their prices to match Toys R Us, thus not making any money, or they must eat the toy purchase (or otherwise return it to the store to get their money back).

Excessive Returns

If I were Toys R Us, and when these returns start rolling in, I’d place the people who are returning these ‘hot’ items on a watch list. If they exhibit this same behavior of returning ‘hot collectible toys’, especially in larger quantities, I’d place those people onto a do not sell list across the entire chain. Deny their credit card purchase for future sales of hot collectibles. It’s very easy to tag what’s a hot collectible, so it’s also easy to identify those trying to scalp through returns and then deny sales of future items to these individuals. For those of us collectors who never return our items, this whole issue would never affect us. It would only affect scalpers intent on scalping and returning when ‘things don’t work out’.

Countering unnecessary high prices

Of course, Toys R Us could run out of stock at some point and force people to contemplate a higher priced alternative.  As long as Toys R Us keeps the item in stock, those scalper listings won’t ever sell.

I would love to see the Disney Store, Target, Walmart, Gamestop and other retailers exacting this same selling strategy for their exclusive or hot selling items. Pull the items out of the store and put the stock on eBay and Amazon at retail pricing. Make sure you have well enough stock on hand to keep this store stocked continually. Would-be scalpers would need to think twice about using these outlets to perform their scalping efforts going forward. To Toys R Us, I say, “Bravo”… in attempting to counter this problem at its source. You should expand this concept and do this in more places where scalpers sell. I’d personally like to see the toy and collector scalper market shut down entirely for first run retail collectibles.

When do ‘collectibles’ become actual Collectibles?

Of course, once the stores have discontinued selling the item, the item is no longer available and the items can no longer be returned to the retailer (past the return period), this fully opens up the collectible sales market. However, until first run retail stock is discontinued and depleted and the item is no longer carried by the retailer, I don’t considered it a collectible in the sense that it should command a higher than retail price tag. Though, mistakes and variants have their place as unique, these can command whatever price someone is willing to pay. But, for non-special retail items, it is not a collectible as long as it is carried in the store.

As a collector, I don’t believe any item deserves to be opened up to the collector’s market until the item reaches 10 years in age past first run. But, I do understand that people want to rush their collectible to market to “sell it now”. I just don’t believe that any item should command the true collector price tag until after it reaches the 10 year mark. Though, some collectors rush to complete their collections at all costs. It doesn’t help that some buyers are willing to shell out nearly any amount of cash for something that could be had at a retail store for retail prices. These buyers are just feeding into the scalping frenzy which only serves to keep this cycle going. I’m quite happy to see Toys R Us is taking steps to help shut this market down, at least for the toys and collectibles that they sell. Well done Toys R Us.

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Skylanders Trap Team: Review + Kaos Trap?

Posted in botch, video game, video gaming by commorancy on January 9, 2015

trap-team-compatibility-logo[Update 3: 4/6/2015]: Gamestop.com has several Kaos Trap bundles now available online for purchase. Not only do they now have the same 3 trap bundle as on Amazon for $15.99 (only available in stores), Gamestop.com also carries 3 additional Kaos Trap bundles (online only) that Gamestop has created (Kaos-Water-Magic, Kaos-Water-Earth & Kaos-Water-Life) containing 3 trap singles as a bundle for $17.97. If you’re looking for the individual trap (not as part of a 3 pack), this is the best and least costly way to get it. Now I know why Gamestop has been hoarding Kaos Traps from their case packs at their warehouse instead of sending them to the stores. They have been stockpiling these Kaos Traps to create these 3 trap single bundles for online sales. Retailers should not be allowed to break case packs open and hold out stock for months for the purpose of creating bundles. All I can say is, if you want this trap, hurry.

[Update 2: 4/1/2015]: It seems Amazon’s stock of the 3 trap bundle has been temporarily depleted at $14.99. Try back in a day or two as Amazon refreshes their stock every day. However, don’t limit yourself to Amazon. All retailers are likely to get this 3 pack. Try looking at (or calling) Best Buy, Walmart, Gamestop, Target, Kmart, Toys R Us or any other retailer near you that carries Skylander’s toys.

[Update 1: 4/1/2015]: If you’re looking for the Kaos Trap, it is now included in a 3 trap bundle (Air, Kaos, Earth) for KaosTrapBundle$14.99 available now at Amazon. Be sure to choose the Amazon version marked at $14.99. Amazon has a tendency to put items in stock as the first item in the listing (even if it’s a higher price). Choose the Amazon item at $14.99 even if it says it ships later. If you don’t see a $14.99 listing, it means Amazon’s stock has been depleted and their listing has been temporarily removed. Try back again another day.

Skylanders Trap Team

While I have to give kudos yet again to Activision for producing a top notch installment to the Skylanders franchise, there is one huge peeve I have with this series. What is Skylanders you ask? Let’s explore.

Skylanders Video Game and RFID

This game is relatively simple video game with a brilliant gimmick that parents all over the country are cursing their wallet. This is exactly how it was designed by Activision. So, what is it?

It’s simple, it’s basically a cartoon turned into an action fighting game with characters that you must purchase separately. Each figure you purchase has its own strengths and weaknesses in battle. These are determined by the character’s abilities. Once you buy a character toy, you place it on the Traptanium Portal (included with the Starter Pack) and an RFID reader pulls character information stored on the toy into the game. So, the more you play with that character, the higher it levels up and the stronger it becomes.

In fact, it’s a brilliant use of RFID technology and video games. I’d love to see more RPG games use this idea. For example, a series like the Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect or even Star Wars RPGs could benefit from this. Instead of relying on finding items in the world, you would buy them at the store and level them up on your character. The item could then be added to any character you own. There are so many uses for this idea in gaming, it’s sad that it’s not being used more. I think it’s absolutely brilliant for gaming.

Toys and Scarcity

My peeve.. Activision has taken the approach of releasing toys in waves and at random times throughout the year. This does a couple of things. First, withholding some toys means that you can’t play parts of the game until the toy is released. Second, some of the toys are intentionally hard to find so that parts of the game cannot even be completed until you manage to find it or you are willing to pay the highly inflated price on eBay or Amazon.

For Skylanders, this approach is extremely frustrating and introduces kids into the fray of toy collecting early. But, unfortunately, kids don’t have the money to locate or pay for these toys. The parents are firmly on the hook for locating and placating their child’s video game play.

To this I say, “Shame on you Activision”. This series appeals to children at an age that have little concept of collectible toys or scarcity of toys on the shelves. What am I talking about here?

Skylanders Traps

The latest Skylanders game is titled Trap Team. The concept behind this game is that not only can you buy and use toy characters, you can now trap the villains you defeat and they become good characters you can use to defeat new villains and trap them. But, this is not just about any old trap. I’m specifically talking about the Kaos trap. Note that there are 40 or so villains in the game. This also means you need to invest in about 40 traps to to entrap the villains. What is a trap? It’s a small toy that looks like a crystal. It is initially empty, but once you trap a villain, it becomes associated with that specific toy trap. So, everytime you place that trap into the portal, it recalls that same villain. If you take that crystal and put it in someone else’s game, it will also pull in that villain into their game.

In addition to buying small traps, there are different elements (earth, air, water, fire, life, tech, magic, undead, light and dark). Each of these element types requires a special trap that is color coded. So, unless you have one of these specific types of traps, you cannot trap a villain of that type. More specifically, the main villain in the game is Kaos. He has his own personal trap type called, creatively enough, the Kaos trap. This trap can only ever hold Kaos. Once you trap Kaos, you can use him as a character in battle.

KaosTrapUnfortunately, Activision has dropped the ball heavily with this game in this area. While it’s easy to find Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Tech, Life, Magic and Undead traps pretty much everywhere, the Kaos trap is extremely hard to find. In fact, in a case of 20-30 traps, there may be only 3 Kaos traps. This means the store gets a boatload of these easy-to-find elements and Kaos trap immediately sells out. Because Kaos can only be trapped in a Kaos trap, you have to find that trap or your child cannot play as Kaos. Kaos is the absolutely strongest villain in the game, so having him to use in battle is extremely useful.

Note, a lot of people believe this trap has never been released. It has. It was released when all of the traps first released. However, there are so few in the retailer case packs that you’re unlikely to ever see it in the store. What I recommend at this point is to buy the Dark Edition Starter Pack which contains an Ultimate Kaos trap. This will at least let your child play as Kaos. The Dark Edition is a whole lot more expensive than buying the Kaos trap at retail price, but this trap is almost impossible to find in any retailer. At this point, to buy the Kaos trap alone aftermarket might cost you $50. Though, that’s cheaper than buying the Dark Edition Starter pack. But, if you’re buying the game brand new, I highly recommend buying the Dark Edition set. If you’ve got an existing a game you’ve already purchased, then buying an aftermarket trap may be the only answer. I’d also suggest filing a complaint with Activision on the scarcity of this trap.

Light and Dark Traps

The reason I excluded the Light and Dark traps from the above is that both of these sets were released immediately prior to Christmas. These traps are a bit hard to find because they are brand new. But, they can be obtained in the light and dark adventure packs that also contain the new level, the trap and a trap master. The light (Sunscraper Spire) and dark (Midnight Museum) adventure sets can be found periodically on Amazon. Note, make sure that it says you’re buying these from Amazon and not a third party seller to get the lowest price. When Amazon (or any store) has these in stock, they should cost around $29.

Activision’s Game Clock

There is absolutely no reason the Kaos trap is so hard to find. Activision could ship retailers cases entirely of the Kaos trap and completely eliminate the scarcity of this trap. In fact, there is no reason this trap is so scarce. This is an artificial scarcity that Activision has introduced into the series, but this type of scarcity doesn’t belong with this game. This is a completely mistaken and asinine strategy. If this were a series aimed at adults (and specifically adult collectors), such as The Elder Scrolls series, this situation is perfectly acceptable. Unfortunately, this game is targeted completely at children. This scarcity of the Kaos trap is likely backfiring on Activision hard and ruining their PR, but they seem oblivious to this issue.

Parents have no interest in playing this game (other than getting things for their children) and will ultimately take the game away from little Timmy when it becomes too costly and problematic. That means, no more money to Activision from that family. More and more families are pulling the plug on this game in their household because of this exact scarcity issue. To avoid disappointments in children, you take away the thing that’s causing it. Worse, children don’t have the longest attention span in the first place. So, when a child can’t do what they want to do in the game, they’re going to give up on it sooner rather than later and never come back to it. Meaning, if they can’t get the Kaos trap to play as Kaos when they need it, they’ll give up on the game and forget all about it by the time the Kaos traps do arrive.

Shelf Life of Games

Games typically have a 6 month or so shelf life at the longest before a newer more compelling game is released. Seeing as this game released October 4th, 2014, the clock is firmly ticking on Activision to make these toys more readily available. If Activision cannot solve this Kaos scarcity problem, assuming the parents haven’t already pulled the plug on the game, the kids will lose interest by the time the next game arrives.

Kaos Arena Game Play

What’s worse is not only the shelf life, but the replay-ability. This game is short. It doesn’t take long to get through the entire story piece. Getting through the arena levels takes only slightly longer. However, if you want to open every door and unlock every treasure, that takes substantially longer. Unfortunately, you can’t easily do this because Activision was, until recently, withholding critical toys to make this a reality. But, in gaming, not everyone is a completionist, let alone assuming this of children. While some children may want to finish the entire game and get every medal, not everyone will.

In reality, once you get through the story entirely, you’re pretty much done with the game. You don’t learn anything new or gain any new story by completing everything. So, it’s a stretch to ask kids to wait months to get the final content they need to complete the game. In fact, Activision is stretching it if they think they can stretch this game’s lifespan longer with this slow drip toy strategy. Activision will be lucky if many kids are still playing this game come March. Timing is everything with this game and Activision not delivering critical pieces of the game within a few weeks of the release of this game is really not a great strategy.

Costly

SkylandersDarkEditionOne aspect of this game that I haven’t yet touched on is cost. To really play this game properly, in addition to buying the Starter Pack Edition game kit (around $50) or the Dark Edition Kit (around $125), you need a Trap Master of every element and purchase traps of every element. Like Skylanders Swap Force required purchasing characters that you could swap their top and bottoms, you also needed every element and every power type to complete Swap Force. The same goes with Trap Team. Not only do you need a Trap Master of every element (of which Magic, Light and Dark are the hardest to find), you also need to buy a trap to contain each villain to be a completionist. That entails purchasing 40 traps in addition to 10 trap masters. Traps cost around $6 a piece and trap masters anywhere from $12.99 to $14.99, though Toys R Us puts them on sale at buy one get one 40% off regularly. So, you can reduce the cost by taking advantage of this deal. You can also save a little money if you buy the bulk trap packs that contain 3 or 8 traps bundled together.

And don’t think you can get away just with purchasing the toys. No. You’ll need to organize and store them. So, you’ll also need to purchase a chest for the traps and a case to hold the figures to keep them organized and stored.

EliteChopChopIt doesn’t stop there, there are also standard toy characters that you can buy to battle with and more powerful characters called Eon’s Elites (which are primarily collectibles and only available at Gamestop and EB Games in North America, Australia and New Zealand, and select retailers in Europe). They also appear to be limited. Be prepared to call Gamestop or EB Games looking for these Elites if you need to find them. There are adventure packs to add new levels to the game which usually retail around $30-35.

This is a fairly substantial investment for a game. Most games cost $60 with at most $10-20 worth of DLC. But, Skylanders can run you into the hundreds of dollars with all of the toys and add-ons. I’d recommend that, unless absolutely necessary, the toys should remain in their packaging. This will retain the value of the toy. So, when the game is done, you can put it on eBay and sell it off at a reasonably good value. People are willing to buy figures still in the package, so it’s always wise to do this when possible. Keep in mind that this is impossible to do for the traps. The traps have to be extracted from their packages to be used. But, the Trap Masters and most of the characters will play just fine if left in the package. The only exception to this is the Light and Dark adventure packs that include traps that must be extracted to be used. So, you have to rip open these packages for the traps.

Overall

The game is reasonably fun and plays like watching a cartoon. The voice acting is superb and the story is well written. But, it does require a costly investment in toys and extras. Unless you have the means and you are willing and able to run around or call stores constantly to find that ever-elusive toy or trap, you might not want to consider this game for your child. It could end up being a huge source of frustration. Else, you’re likely to find yourself spending a lot of time running around looking for the elusive trap, toy or character. And, these waves of new toys don’t stop. There are many variations of trap shapes (well more than there are villains). Toys will continue to show up in stores until Activision releases the next version of Skylanders. However, you will be able to use these toys in the next Skylander’s game, but Activision will require a new gimmick to force repurchase of an entirely new set of toys. Ultimately, the game itself is fun, but not overly replayable. However, for some children Trap Team may offer some level of replay.

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