Q&A: Star Wars Box Problems and Finding Toys, As Always

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, October 20, 2019

1.Why is it that Amazon does such shoddy packing for a collectible exclusive?

I could order a paperweight, and it'd come packed in a sturdy box with airbags or peanuts.

Order their exclusive Carbonized Sith Trooper, and they send it in a padded envelope.

Are they just totally oblivious on how to treat collectible items?

"Collectible" is pretty wide-ranging and I'd say any consumer product should be delivered in good condition. If my Oreos are crushed or my granola bars are all broken, it's not good either. All you can really do is exercise your right as a consumer, and complain. If a seller gets enough complaints, they'll address it - maybe double-boxing or using a mailer box, or maybe not. If all you do is complain about it, but not to the organization that is in a position to help you, it'll keep happening. Mail order is an ancient business but still imperfect, and free shipping incurs costs - you sometimes get what you pay for.

I work for an online store, and I have pitched in at the warehouse in the distant past - and I can say that as a small organization, not everybody was always on the same page. At a bigger organization, it's a lot harder to be consistent. I've heard reports from people ordering the same toy from Amazon and some people got a label slapped on the retail box while others got a mailer box over it, and others still got a box AROUND the mailer box which was around the retail box - effectively double-boxing it. It's inconsistent.

As a rule Amazon is very fond of SIOC (ships in own container) products, and they aren't as concerned with getting collectors a mint condition product. As my employer has a Mint Condition Guarantee (not "everything will always be delivered perfect" but "let us know when something comes wrong,") we try to make sure it's packed in a way to minimize mayhem en route to you - so things shouldn't be bent to fit in the mailer box or put in a padded envelope. But that's a smaller, niche business than Amazon's one-size-fits-all approach. They're really good at shipping some things, as most records I order from them are often put in a protective mailer which itself is put in another box, but toys are hit-and-miss. I wouldn't expect things to come from Amazon unblemished, mostly because a lot of people are not necessarily trained to ship that way (to say nothing of how much work they do in a day.)

You have to demand the kind of service you want on your products - and if they don't get returns and complaints, this is how it is.



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2. Having hit 4 stores today in search of certain Star Wars figures, this is what I found:

Wal-mart 1: Emptiness, save for 1 Jabba's Playset. Employees knew nothing about the store's plans for today. Scans showed no more products in the back.

Target 1: Everything! For some reason, no regular black Black Series boxes, but they were all limited white "First Editions."

Wal-mart 2: Some lightsabres, 2 Skiffs, and those dumb gold Original Trilogy figures in a 3 foot shelf display. Nothing else.

Target 2: Everything like Target 1, except with no "First Editions "and many black Black Series boxes.

Has distribution really gone downhill, even though these retailers had months to plan for this?

Or do the retailers simply not care about Star Wars anymore?

Star Wars isn't special any longer. Also: nothing has changed, in the past 3 decades of my actively hunting action figures with a quasi-collector mentality it is nigh impossible that you will go to one (or six) stores and find exactly what you want. You have to keep looking, always, all the time. It's never going to be perfect. If you're collecting expecting that you can go into any store - even on a launch day - and find 100% of what you want, a) quit or b) just order online. Distribution has not gone downhill. This is how it always will be, unless more stores get on the toy bandwagon. Previous Midnight Madnesses and Forces Friday had a lot, but not always everything in a one-stop shop.

Stores don't care about midnight madness, as it's a lot of work for minimal profit on top of what normally happens. There wasn't that much stuff this time, each Force Friday has had diminishing returns, and if you ask me the character selection combined with the secrecy is not conducive to fan excitement. I don't think Fallen Order is fit to stand alongside The Mandalorian in terms of fan excitement - but perhaps I am wrong here. (I'm not, this is me pretending to be humble.)

Distribution is normal. This is what "normal" looks like if you collect something other than Star Wars. There's no Batman "Force Friday" even though there are set dates, because nobody cares. It's just another movie, just like annual Star Wars have resulted in the specialness going away and it, too, is just another movie. Non-fans are not aware the movie is coming out this year. The marketing isn't like we got for Rogue One or The Force Awakens with titles announced a year in advance with tons of teases to ensure you're excited.

It's kept so quiet that nobody knows or cares that it's happening. The packaging of the new "collector" toys look exactly the same as the last batch, so your average non-fan pop-culture junkie won't even realize what they see is new. You're seeing what it looks like when your squeeze the goose that lays the golden eggs one too many times.





If you've read my stuff for a while, you know I'm fond of saying "vote with your dollars." Hate something? Don't buy it. Don't buy only one if you usually buy 2-3 and hate it - buy 0. Write letters. Similarly, if you want something, buy it when it comes out - don't wait for clearance. Make sure people know what your deal is, people who aren't me, because as both a Professional Toy Buyer and as a collector, I also have chances to vote with my dollars. (And you not voting with your dollars - or heavily voting with your dollars - tells people like me what to do.) But I have to do what makes sense for me - you have to do what makes sense for you.

As far as taste goes, the recent Force Friday launch was not what I generally expect. Metallic repaints are where I don't need to be. The bronze and pewter MicroMachines are where I drew the line in the 1990s - and while I do have the very few silver Star Wars figures, I can't bring myself to pay $15 per gold 2-pack right now. I might regret it later, but given how many droids, vintage figures, and other troopers I already have I don't think I'll miss them. They're not $7.50-a-pop worth it for me, and I'm feeling the same way about some of the Carbonized/etc. figures. If I can get them cheaper later, or if I stumble on them, maybe I'll get them - but I don't want to chase them down. I don't want to buy souvenirs or things for the sake of collecting, and as a fan who has been in this game for a very long time I've got more than a few "just to complete the set" figures as it is. There's no merit badge or great reward for having everything - and if I'm not having fun, why should I throw down another $200+ for metallic paints on figures I've already got? $200 can get me one of them fancy new not-a-GameBoys.

Each item does seem to be well-crafted, but the greater line's context is a continued example from where The Last Jedi took us down a bad path, without too many vehicles and with several too-familiar faces. When I go out I see a handful of pegs for Star Wars and I would argue that it's because "silver" Hot Wheels and "gold" Hasbro figures isn't pushing my buttons. I have to wonder if this is a coincidental product development or something from Disney and Lucasfilm - it's not very exciting and it's a real bummer given the opportunities available to "celebrate the saga." I'd love some aliens from Takodana in The Force Awakens. I'd be happy with a classic ship that isn't a redeco at a higher price. I'm easy - but I've got standards. Metallic doesn't meet them, but I will say that's a nice new X-Wing helmet and the 5-inch figures turned out really nciely.

Will 2020 be better, will it be 2007 again? ...don't get your hopes up. Right now we're still waiting on the big license renewal.

I think what we're seeing is a mix of Disney/Lucasfilm changing the guard in addition to the slow decline since The Black Series split the fandom in a pretty significant way - now we've got 5-inch, 3 3/4-inch Vintage, 6-inch Black Series, Galactic Heroes, and possibly other scales to come all competing for the same dollars. In the 1970s, at most, we had 2 formats at once and one tended to fail quickly. Hasbro would probably be selling a lot more with a "definitive" line, something for kids and collectors to both chase, and a place fans who want everything can call home. That line had historically been 3 3/4-inch, but now Hasbro makes unique figures in each scale so the collector has no specific place that's a best bet to hang their hat. I don't think this is something they want to solve, either.

I'm not particular which scale is "the scale," but I'm biased toward 3 3/4-inch since that's where almost everything already exists - ain't no way they'll ever catch up in 6-inch. It's my hope that other scales in the future are largely redundant, kid-driven stuff so none of us have to hold our nose and buy a (insert size here) cantina alien because it doesn't exist in 6- or 3 3/4-inch as of yet. After 40 years, it's weird to think they got it more or less right twice, but keep experimenting for some reason. I'd even be happy if 5-inch was the new standard, but it's clearly not. I just don't like a collection made of different characters in disparate sizes - that's not a "collection." That's clutter.

--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, and we're down to 2 questions per week until we get overloaded with questions to re-expand back to 3 or more.



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Amazon shipping

Amazon quality control is often middling to awful when it comes to collectibles. I've had several books sent from them in thin padded envelopes that arrive with dinged corners and bent pages. This includes comic books and graphic novels.

I've had action figures of multiple scales arrive with damaged packages as well.

I've discussed these shipping issues with customer service on numerous occasions, even specifically asking them to take care with packing it in sturdy boxes. Nope, still comes in the cheap padded envelopes.

I can't tell how many times this has led to me replacing the items outright or at the very least requesting a partial refund. The latter really comes in handy when it's an action figure you probably were going to open anyway. Even better, sometimes they give full refunds and let you keep the product.

Of course, this belays the troubling reality that for them it's cheaper to skimp on packaging and hope customers don't complain than it is to refund those who do complain.