Saturday, September 15, 2012

Why Case Mixes Matter to the Collector

Collecting Star Wars action figures can be a frustrating task. There’s frequently that one figure that is never left on store shelves, which it is only possible to get by coughing two or three times the RRP online. But why do these online stores or independent shops charge so much for rare figures? And how would the distribution issues of certain figures be solved?

The problem with scarce figures has been the same for years. There is that one figure in a wave who no-one can get hold of. The reason for this, is the case mixes for each wave. When twelve figures ship in one box, there is a decision made about how many of each figure should be in there. The examples used here will be from 2006, based on the UK case mix for The Saga Collection Wave 3. Although this is obviously a few years ago, the situation with case mixes has not changed much over the years.

In 2006, Scorch was a ridiculously hot figure. The figure was going for upwards of £20 at some points, and the RRP at the time was £5.99. The reason for his scarcity was that Scorch was an extra-desirable figure (as video game fans jumped on him as well as regular collectors) and was only packed at one per case. Case mixes might seem like an abstract, supplier/store problem but it is a real issue for collectors.

The case mix for The Saga Collection Wave 3 contained:
2 x Yoda – Geonosis
2 x C-3PO with Battle Droid Head
2 x Poggle the Lesser
2 x Sun Fac
1 x Sora Bulq
1 x Jango Fett
1 x Scorch
1 x Clone Trooper – Utapau

It is clear from this list that Hasbro did not have a clue when designing this case mix! Any Star Wars collector would know immediately that Poggle the Lesser and Sun Fac were interesting only to hardcore fans, and that Scorch or even Sora Bulq would easily outsell them. Yoda and C-3PO could be justified as figures that would sell to children, but there is no excuse for the Geonosians being packed at two figures each per case. Jango Fett is a popular character who had not been available since 2003, and even he was only packed at one per case.

So this leads to a choice for retailers. Do they sell every figure for the RRP, £5.99 as it was then? That would lead to Scorch, Jango and to an extent Sora Bulq disappearing from shelves quicker than the Millennium Falcon can make the Kessel Run. Stores would be left with dozens and dozens of Poggle the Lesser and Sun Fac figures that would have to be cleared out at a loss. Then the store would have made no money, or worse lost money, on the case. 

The alternative is clever pricing from the beginning. When a wave like this hits, price Scorch at £11.99. But to counteract that extra £6 charged for him, sell Poggle the Lesser and Sun Fac for £2.99 each. This way the slow moving figures move more quickly, as they are seen as a bargain, and a figure like Scorch you can name your price on anyway so it will still sell. This upsets some parents, children and collectors who do not understand why one figure is so expensive, but it rewards the collector who is buying a full set as the extra paid on Scorch is saved on Poggle and Sun Fac.

The ideal solution to all of this would be for Hasbro to make logical, well thought out choices when deciding how many of each figure should be packed in a case. But as they have not managed that since mixed cases became the norm, collectors should not hold out much hope. In the mean time, it may be best not to hold it against your local independent toy retailer if they take the route of varying the price from figure to figure.

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