Q&A: Star Wars Exclusives, Little Marvel Figures, and Imports

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, August 1, 2021

1. When I shop for Star Wars store exclusives online, I've often found a limit of 1 or 2 for each figure.

That's sensible, as it keeps scalpers and flippers from ordering multiples of each.

Yet, when that same exclusive is in a bricks and mortar store, there's usually no limit and one could buy the whole case if he wanted to.

Target's exclusive Retro Collection Boba Fett Prototype preorder showed up and vanished in seconds, forcing us to try to find him in stores, which will likely get 1 case to be bought by 1 guy.

So, why is there such a giant lapse of policy enforcement?

There's also the reality - and this also applies to street dates - to online visibility versus in-store visibility. If Target.com posts all the Midnight Madness items early, everybody can see it. It's bad PR. There will be pretests. If Target on Broadway puts out the stuff a day early and it sells, it sold. Nobody can put the genie back into the bottle. I have yet to see evidence there were fines - just people saying they heard someone say that someone said they heard someone paid a fine at one point. If a guy goes in and buys a dozen figures, the peg is clean, they can now stock another thing. It's also worth noting that one store may get a couple cases. The profit on those cases is infinitesimal, and the gross probably isn't worth putting any system in place to prevent this sort of activity. To put it mildly, it's just not that important, and it's not generally worth anybody's time to do anything about it.

Brick and mortar enforcement has been attempted through the years in various ways, and probably isn't worth their time on a per-store level. An internet warehouse wants stuff coming in and going out immediately so they have room for the next thing, and because infinite humans can pounce on it, it works fine. And you don't want one guy buying 200 of a figure. (And don't say "Well nobody would do that," I assure you, these people exist and would.)

When it comes to retail stores imposing limits, you have to remember that it's difficult. In 2020, some stores put limits on things like hand sanitizer and soap. These stores have self check-outs. There's no way to enforce this. If I wanted extra soap - and I did - I could buy it. Also most stores don't get that many units of a thing, so as you said - one person could clear out a case pretty easily. They're not going to take your photo and say "Do not sell Boba Fett to this man" on a bulletin board next to the guy who passed bad checks in 1992.

Today's toys - collecitbles, mostly for teens and adults - are still dealing with the push and pull of the old ways (assortments shipped to stores and probably allocated months before anyone knew who the characters were) and the present (inventory checkers, forums, eBay.) If everything moved to a pre-order (or HasLab/Kickstarter model), everybody could get their stuff. That's never going to happen. After being the target market for action figures (and after semi-organized adult collecting being a real thing for about the last 30 years, give or take a few months) there's one thing I can tell you that you can take to the bank: this is how it's pretty much always been, and it's probably not going to get a lot better unless you collect a line that focuses better on kids and adults. Star Wars figures with realistic human proportions gave up on kids more or less completely just over two years ago.



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2. Adam, I was helping a friend search EBay for Marvel Universe 3.75 figures....dang, what a horrible time to start being a collector! The prices are insane, and that’s assuming you can find anything at all!
GI JOE, Star Wars and Marvel have all skyrocketed compared to 5 years ago, so my question is:
Is this pandemic related?
Do you see this as a bubble market that is eventually going to burst, and prices will drop back to mid 2000s levels?

Back to Marvel; IMO the IP has peaked with End Game, so I would have thought that values would already have started tumbling. I think people are spending more because they were locked up for a year. What do you think?

The pandemic has given people something they lacked - time. In that time, a lot of people were looking at their collections and filling in gaps, leading to a lot of items to suddenly become a bit more in demand. Also items in the past 10 years weren't made in the same gargantuan quantities that items were in the 1990s (or even bigger in the 1970s and 1980s.)

Does quality of fiction have anything to do with toy prices? Not really. The Rise of Skywalker didn't stop collecting. The live-action Transformers films just made classic comic and toy fans more interested in the good stuff. The worse a movie is, the more likely fans are to want to cling to the old stuff that they love.

Since 3 3/4-inch Marvel is all but dead - if not totally dead - it's a great time to collect. You know what the best versions are, you know how many Spider-Men there are, and there's little chance of a newer version of anybody hitting the market. The little guys underperformed compared to the 6-inch guys too, so people skipped a lot of stuff, and I would bet that the edition sizes were also a lot lower. Basic collector economics say that a dud line could end up getting really expensive.

While prices frequently level off, they rarely go back down, especially if that's the only version of a character that exists. For this specific line, I would not expect prices to go down because there's not a whole bunch of it sitting around waiting to get out - it just didn't get purchased on a large scale. This doesn't mean you won't find something cheap - for example, in a collection, where you have to part it out to recoup some costs. With inflation, wages going up due to the job market seemingly favoring workers, and Marvel Cinematic Universe kids having not yet come of age yet, this is probably just the start. Iron Man came out in 2008, meaning the 10 year old kids who saw that movie might be around 23 now. If all goes well, they're just going to start thinking about buying the toys they missed as kids as they get their first jobs, and things tend to go up as they all get better jobs too. A great example of this was Jurassic Park - those dinosaurs can be obscenely expensive after a few years of being off the market.

But what I say is based on history, and just a few lines. Items made in very large quantities sometimes level off (like a lot of the loose Kenner figures did for a long time), or drop off a cliff (1990s Star Trek and Star Wars) due to abundant supply and/or superior new versions being made available. When you're talking about toys that are 10 years old, or older, all you can hope for is a bunch of fans tiring of their collections and quitting. I haven't seen much of that. Usually there's a pattern of things come out, are in-demand and command a premium when they're new, fans stop caring as they may become pegwarmers or dumped at Ross/TJ Maxx/Five Below, and then the prices may stay low-ish for a few years until demand increases. Ross was swimming in $25 Sentinels and Galactus figures about a decade ago. Now they're pricey.




3. Adam, the Walmart Collector Exclusive ARC Trooper and Arc Trooper Captain for the TVC line look sweet…if you were in my position, living over here in Japan, how would you try to get them? I’m not even considering a full squad or even 3 and the captain; I’d settle for just one of each.

Assuming there's no Japanese release, I'd suggest staking out any Asian toy distributors - maybe Robot Kingdom - just in case they go up for sale.

You could also bug Hasbro to allow for more or better international distribution of these toys, and there are a lot of ways to do this and partners who would likely be willing to participate in getting stuff to fans in need. I imagine there's got to be at least one toy store over there who'd want it - and if not, I'm sure there are more than a few American toy firms who would be happy to ship stuff overseas.

Your other bet is a long one, and that's assuming that the current era of collectors probably involves a lot of hoarding. I might be wrong about this, but the MISB fan club - combined with the speed some stuff disappears - could mean there's a tremendous amount of product locked up waiting to be sold later. It might be a year. Or two. Or five. But sometimes these things dip in price as people dump their collections, so if Walmart doesn't make enough, your only real hope is that someone bought a bunch to flip and most likely failed to flip them at a mark-up. This is where I'd normally comment about international distribution or some such, but the reality is that nearly all Hasbro toys are somewhat hard to get now. If you go to an American store, not only do you not see their exclusives, but there are a lot of empty pegs - and mostly empty aisles - for the main line stuff. If/when the pandemic abides and the non-lifers look at their new toy hordes and say "ugh, why did I buy that?" some of us might get to fill some gaps in our collection as they dump big lots of things on eBay. But that might be a while, and it's no guarantee. (It has, however, paid off for me in the past.)



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The big exciting news is that it's August - and Hasbro is starting to put out some exclusives for collectors and fans without announcing them, like Target's new Buzzworthy Bumblebee collection which includes an awesome Worlds Collide 4-pack (Fangry!) and a deluxe More Than Meets the Eye UFO Bumblebee, both of which I found last week. This coincides with aisle reset season, as stores both online and off are starting to clear out old toys and stock new ones. We added several hundred Hasbro, Mattel, LEGO, and other toys at work over the weekend including lots of new Ghostbusters toys that would probably have been out in 2020 were the movie in release. But hey, now's good! So what will 2021 look like? Can't say. Right now I'm still trying to look at this year, and it's not all roses and sunshine. For those of you who follow international freight charges - and you should - it's getting a lot more expensive. Hubbub around the price of a 40-foot container - a most popular means of getting stuff on a boat from China to the USA - has gone up significantly. Reports of the container costing $20,000ish are popping up, and also prices are supposedly dipping a bit. Of course this is opposed to about $2,000 or so just a couple of years ago. While you can get a lot of stuff in a 40-foot container - I've stood in one, you should try it - it means that the savings (or lack thereof) will likely be passed along to you, the consumer, and it's probably going to impact toys. Price increases are already happening in many of the major brands, including Hasbro Star Wars, but you're going to see more and more of these in toys across the board. Unless, of course, they're made here - but regular inflation could increase those prices too.

New York Comic Con is coming up in October, about 3 months from now. July's San Diego Comic-Con was cancelled around March 2021, four months and change before the event, but November's SDCC is supposedly happening (at this time I have no plans on going, I assume it will be sparsely attended because if there's still COVID it won't happen and if there's no COVID people will want to see their families over Thanksgiving.) As of right now all indicators from the convention are that the show will go on, but the behind the scenes chatter about who may exhibit there - or not - is still being decided. New York's infection rate isn't too bad compared to a lot of other places, so as of right now, I assume they have no reason to cancel an event where 200,000 people ride in to see celebrities from all over the world in no-elbow-room crowds with massive security bottlenecks just to get in putting people in even closer quarters. But I'm just a caveman. Your world frightens me.

As of right now I've heard absolutely zero doubts for events in 2022. As of now it seems Toy Fair is a go in February, Star Wars Celebration is sailing ahead, and everybody in the biz I've talked to is really optimistic for 2022 being a normal year. (I'm not there yet.) Although I'm definitely at a point where the online drops for exclusives selling out in seconds is making me look forward to normal toy runs with stuff showing up at random times in stores, but I assume that is potentially gone forever too.

At least there should be some good toys next year. And hopefully we can all meet up and see them somewhere.

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit.



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