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EDITORIAL: Toy Speculation & Our Opposition to It

[Warning: Rant Ahead.]

When we began carrying Doctor Who toys we thought were engaging in a relationship where we could focus on satisfying a great many customers, and that would be that. And, we think and hope we have met that initial goal, so to that extent, things have been good.

But, in the last month or so, it looks like open season on speculation and it's being fueled by sources that should know better.

The largest toy line we carry is from Character Options. They've announced exclusive releases, expected only to be available at the San Diego Comic Con at the end of July. People are already selling these on eBay, with the lowest "BuyItNow" price around $100 plus shipping, though they don't even have them, there will only be a limited number, and nobody is guaranteed one. Almost everyone we've heard who wants to get one has openly talked about how much they'll make re-selling them. There are "gangs of organized buyers" who expect to go in again and again to get these in quantity...keeping them out of the hands of others.

When it comes to getting customers...especially children...a toy like this as a special gift, it's simple: "exclusives exclude."

On two of the latest releases of 5" toy figures groupings in the same product line, many other retailers out there have figured out some of the figures were re-cast for the US release, or (for now) are only being released in the US. The result, for toys they didn't pay more for, is an increase in price. For the Ninth Doctor figure, prices elsewhere seem to be $10.99 (which, at least, is supposed to be retail price), $11.95, and so on up to the $20 range. Another that just got lower distribution, the "10th Doctor In Glasses" figure, we've seen elsewhere at prices ranging from $14.95 up to $24.95 in the US. And, apparently, they're selling out at these prices.

The bane of speculation is upon us.

We price based on our costs. If merchandise or shipping and packaging charges increase, well, we have to do something to remain profitable. But, for all the retailers on these 5" figures getting sometimes FIVE TIMES WHOLESALE PRICE, especially within a week of a release, something smacks of greed. Then again, if that's what people will pay...and they do seem to be selling out at those prices...I can't say it's entirely inane for a business to increase profits...at least to a point.

But, these aren't yet collectors' pieces. Even the exclusives. Maybe they'll be worth something someday. Just as likely, they will be pieces of plastic to the speculator stuck holding them.

We will try to keep supplies coming in on every item you could want from us. That's what we do.

We will try to keep prices competitive, and honor the business our customers give us by avoiding the price increases and sometime price gouging of others. Our prices still haven't increased on all these limited-release, low distribution items.

If a price does increase on our site, bet on the fact our costs went up somewhere at the same time. If we charge an actual "suggested" retail price somewhere, well, a business is supposed to be profitable enough to operate. We are doing all we can to hold the line on price on these latest sets of 5" figures in the face of obvious "market conditions." We see them. We're not playing that game. We want you here as our customers tomorrow when the speculation bust follows the speculation boom, not just today.

At some point, if we actually need to pay a higher price to re-stock some of these toy sets, we would need to increase prices. Maybe a lot. Just as likely, at that point they'll be sold out and we won't find supplies.

Still, with everything going on, we'll ask you to consider something that's going to be our advice in the future, too. Look at price including shipping and consider service. Compare. When you're done looking around, we'll hope you will come back to buy from us. In the end, we're doing everything we can not to hurt our customers when speculation fever hits a market.

Finally, the reality in this situation is there are folks in Britain who want these toys and figures for their families...for children...who have the added handicap of substantial postage costs in the way of getting them. For all who have been in touch so far, and for all the orders you've entrusted to us, thank you for giving us the opportunity to help you. We also know you need to be frugal, and so far you are all buying for children as gifts. We hope we're helping to provide something good and special your children will all enjoy.



This is a refreshing attitude. I applaud your saying this openly. Bravo!
I think this is just common sense. Thank you for the applause, but isn't this just the way we should be doing things?
Yes, it is. But I see in classrooms what you see in business: what we SHOULD do is not the same as what we actually do. All too often, it is rare that people do what they should. Thus, when someone has the guts to stand up and say and do things that make sense or ruffle feathers or keep them from making more money, especially when there is incentive to do otherwise, I feel the need to acknowledge them.
Again, thank you for the kind words!

As for classrooms, I had an economics course in college that showed the analysis of how worthwhile it was to cheat, collude, price fix, monopolize, and so on...unless the sanction for getting caught at it was harsh enough to counter the bad behavior many times over. For businesses not intent on hanging around long, getting away with certain practices isn't an issue. But, for us, how many future sales and future profits are lost by driving away even a single customer? How big is that sanction? Probably quite huge. We plan to be around for a very long time.

So, perhaps, when you look at someone who is genuinely price gouging (as opposed to taking a market opportunity to try to get a fair price they need to stay in business), you should legitimately ask "Will they be around to back up this sale if anything is wrong?" This is a good question even to ask of an established business...it may be a sign of trouble, or a willingness to take customers for granted. For those folks asking $100 for the Character Options exclusives, the alarm bells should be going off, and people should be running away far and fast from that, in my opinion...no matter how reputable those sellers are, this price is too much, too soon.

It all boils down to a phrase we've all heard before: caveat emptor.

On our end, we want you to compare, inquire, and indulge our competitive spirit as we try to remain the best alternative available. We don't want to be remembered for a single, bad experience, and we try to assure none of those ever happen.

The shame of it all is, with what I was shown in school, the cost-benefit analysis was shown as a short-term or one-time thing. Even in good schools, nobody labors over the point of dealing in long-term analysis, building a clientele and a reputation. In reality, sometimes all a business has that keeps it going through rough times is its good name. We've been lucky to have a great group of people who are customers, who let us keep doing what we want to be doing. We just try not to sully the trust they give us.

Back to the issue of toys, on the latest releases, we are so far on track to filling every order and advance order we've received so far. OK, I know that could change with the next phone call, but we got the price we asked, customers got a competitive price, we're unaware of any issues with how parcels are arriving, or of any service concerns. Anyone still with advance orders on toys should still have orders shipped when we get re-supplied within the week. (We did limit one item to one-to-a-customer to prevent some side-effects of speculation, but that is the only exception right now...everyone who wanted that item got one so far.) We're still taking orders we expect we can fill on all the new figures...at least at the time I'm writing this. (The exception will be the "exclusives" none of us retailers will see.) Most advance orders already are shipped. It's not just that we shouldn't play certain games, but with available supplies, there's no need.

If you're currently dealing with another retailer who charged you more on certain 5" figures, at this point, today, days after the initial release, we're told there are still some supplies at the US distribution site at the original price. That could change soon, but it's still a fact at this moment. Why were prices above retail in so many places from the minute these arrived at stores and on other web sites? When we can't re-stock, and they're sold out, then fine...supply isn't meeting demand. (It doesn't preclude more figures being made, either.) Until then, I'm happy to supply things at our normal price, take our normal profits, and do our job for our customers. My "rant" here is because it's unsettling to know others get treated differently for no good reason.

We'll deal with pricing differently when it does become a matter of dealing on the collector market. Right now, that's not the case for the newest 5" Doctor Who figures, or with many other items from that line of toys. Our prices reflect that fact.

Finally, we are making a profit...just not a "killing". This is common sense and self-interest.