This article was written in response to the yet again disappointing pre-order scenario for Galaxy's Edge exclusive Star Wars figures on Target.com this morning.
Traditional retail is dying, and it has been dying slowly for years, and retailers such as Target and Walmart in particular have been building out their online infrastructures over the years to bring a more positive user experience to their clientel. We now have online ordering with in-store pick-ups, we can check in-store stock online and the times when we experienced server downtime or slowdowns are behind us, or at least minimized so that we hardly encounter those negative experiences while shopping online. Well done traditional retailers, you've taken your first step into a larger world, or like Darth Vader would say, "Impressive, most impressive! But you are not a Jedi yet!". Two major issues remain which impacts collectors, and that is shipping and exclusive pre-orders.
Amazon, Target and Walmart still have to figure this out. Amazon isn't ready at times, the Black Series Carbonized Darth Vader, the Black Series Han Solo in Carbonite and the 4-LOM/Zuckuss 2-packs were advertised during a recent Hasbro Pulse livestream, but at the said day when they were supposed to be sold on Amazon, they were nowhere to be found on their website. Hasbro Pulse stepped up and took pre-orders instead. Amazon updated their website a day or two later. You tell people to go to one place on a specific day, yet nothing is available.
Target so far has been nothing but a disaster. For the first wave of Star Wars Retro Collection figures they opened up pre-orders the evening before Toy Fair in New York, so figures pre-sold out on their website before they were even announced to the public. Today they randomly updated their website with exclusive Galaxy's Edge merchandise, and nobody knew that those products would go live today. So again, just like they mishandled the Star Wars Retro Collection figures previously, the same thing happened again today. Pre-sold out without fans even knowing that those would be made available today.
Walmart tried last Friday. We got a date and time when exclusives would be made available for pre-order, but those pre-orders were made available about half an hour earlier than what Walmart had told everybody, and this gave an advantage to some people. None of the figures listed on their website had a character name listed, so people ordered without knowing for sure what they were getting out of fear of missing out. And then a few minutes after the official go-live time all pre-orders were sold out, which left many fans disappointed. However later that day those Black Series figures were made available again. So Walmart kept putting the figures in and out of stock several times throughout the day. How frustrating, either they are available, or they are not. Why turn people away who make an effort to be on your website at the go-live time (or 5 minutes afterwards), and then reward other people who randomly come to your website in the afternoon by making those pre-orders available to them?
Shipping is another issue which needs to be addressed. This goes for Amazon, Hasbro Pulse and Walmart. Hasbro Pulse caters to collectors specficially and yet figures show up on doorsteps with box-cutter damage, or poorly packaged so that figures arrive with dented corners or creases on Black Series boxes and TVC cards. Throwing a figure into a too big of a box with a bunch of air bubbles isn't protection enough, and asking for a collector's item to arrive without a knife slit going across the top of the box shouldn't be too much to ask.
With Amazon it has gotten to a point where people check the gift checkbox during checkout (and pay extra) in hopes that whoever packages the figures takes more care instead of just throwing it into a box. If you buy from Amazon, figures are expected to show up damaged, the company has a history of mailing figures in simple bubble mailers or in boxes which are too small or without enough protection. This is frustrating especially for Vintage Collection figures which bend easily.
Walmart is just as bad as Amazon, sometimes shipping boxes are too small and figures are cramped in, and we've seen a lot of examples of figures showing up completely trashed even though the shipping box itself was fine. When Walmart sold the Empire Strikes Back themed Retro Collection figures this year, they showed up trashed from coast to coast. Walmart must have gotten so many return requests and complaints that at some point they even refused to take the figures back and just refunded the money without people having to return the figures. What a mess.
For Walmart and Amazon, there are several stories of people ordering 5, 6 or more figures all in the hopes of just getting one figure in a decent condition. If there is one figure in a good condition in the batch the others get returned to the store. How does that look for Hasbro products? Not good.
Gamestop, Best Buy and Target seem to have shipping figured out, at least we don't hear many complaints about them here on J.B.
The shipping issue won't likely get fixed at huge retailers such as Amazon and Walmart, too many products, too much automation, too many employees who can't know the difference between a regular toy and a collector item. The only solution here are plastic clamshells for exclusive products. For regularly available action figures this isn't necessary, collectors can go to specialty shops like Entertainment Earth, Big Bad Toy Store etc... which have a mint guarantee.
Hasbro, train your retail partners about your audience's expectations when it comes to pre-orders. Tell Target to announce a day and time, tell Walmart to not make pre-orders available before the advertised day/time, and make sure that Amazon has the pre-orders up when you tell us to go look for them on their website.
Last but not least, here is a collage of damaged Hasbro Black Series, Vintage Collection and Retro Collection figures, the pictures were taken between April 2019 and July 21st, 2020 and only represent a small number of complaints which was posted in our community. The bigger picture was taken at Star Wars Celebration Chicago 2019 of the Hasbro Pulse booth, and it shows TVC figures which couldn't be sold anymore due to the card damage.