Mattycollector mod speaks out on recurring problems

For those of you who don’t visit the Mattycollector forums, it appears that ToyGuru has stopped posting as frequently, but another moderator, “Catra’s Wrath,” is a font of interesting information. You can check out some of her posts by clicking here.

I’m not sure whether CW works for Mattel or Digital River–she could just be a fan they hired as a moderator, for all I know. But oddly enough, CW’s posts have provided a more intimate peek into Mattel’s behind-the-scenes thinking on MOTUC. Here’s a sampling.

#1

So onto your question. I will try to answer it the best I can, but obviously I can’t go into certain details, so bear with me and I hope you can understand!

Ok: Mattel signed the original distribution contract with Digital River, because they were the only company that could offer international shipping for the line.

This (by standard toy line standards) is such a small line, that it had to be a distribution deal at a cost that was viable.

The servers for the website, at the time, were capable of coping with the ‘expected’ demand, since no one knew that the line was going to take off like it has. The production numbers have been upped several times now to cope with the demand, it was totally unexpected.

When signing a contract with any company you are locked in for a set time period.

As the fan base has grown, so has the traffic volume to the website, pushing the DR server to its limits, the numbers are upped every time the demand rises, but the figures go on the line 6 months prior to release, so every time the demand rises – the numbers are upped but don’t take effect for 6 months – during which the demand builds again, so you’re constantly trying to ‘catch up with yourself’ and as the line grows, so does the traffic to the website, so does the capacity gets tested even more.

As the line expands and grows it means more potential for the line, which is great, but it also brings with it more sales, AND more people who haven’t managed to get one, and it also pushes the IT systems to the limit.

I know this doesn’t give you a lot of details, I can’t supply those i’m afraid, however hopefully this provides you with enough information to understand the situation and some of the issues at hand.

#2

[MOTUC] is a small line with a very small budget – the fanbase is not big enough to encourage massive investment.

To employ a distribution company and be locked into a contract is very expensive, you’re paying for a whole warehouse for the storage of the stock, inventory staff, machinery, vehicles, staff, customer service staff, managers, IT systems – the lot. This is NOT cheap.

To find a distribution company that can deliver an international service PLUS a server capable of the international orders influx all at one time, plus supply all the staff/machinery/vehicles etc – on such a small budget is extremely hard, especially one that can supply the kind of shipping prices that DR does – another company would charge far more for international orders.

The line is a small one, to keep a line going you have to make enough profit back on your investment to allow you to continue to invest in new toolings and keep it going. If you spend all the profit on the distribution company then you’re left with nothing else to plough into the line – and then the line ends.

I hope that clears it up somewhat. This is a complicated business, it’s not as black and white as people may assume.

#3
The server is part of the problem yes – but here’s the other part.

The server is Digital River’s server.

Digital River are the only distribution company that will deliver internationally, hence why Mattel chose to go with them in the first place and sign into a contract.

So there is the catch-22 of the situation.

When the contract began no one realised how big the MOTUC line was going to be, the server capacity was thought to be powerful enough to go cope, as no one expected the line to take off the way it has!

Because the line is so important internationally and there are many many fans in europe, especially in the UK, France, Germany and Spain, it was important to get a distribution deal with a company that would provide international shipping.

DR could offer that, and a server capacity that could cope with the ‘expected’ traffic.

The line has taken off massively though. It’s a different server situation to buying from say amazon as they don’t have thousands of people worldwide trying to access the site at exactly the same time from all across the planet.

So it’s a tricky one i’m afraid, and Mattel are doing all that can be done to make things run smoothly, but obviously the fan base is getting bigger and bigger (which is great for the line and its future possibilities) but it also of course brings issues with it as it grows with capacity.

Am I posting all this as a way to say, “See, they’re aware of their problems, give them a break?” Nah. Draw whatever conclusions you like. I just thought it was interesting.

Comments now closed (20)

  • Actually, they can't even get their international shipping correct. I ordered He-Man and Beastman the first time around and never got them. I was charged for them, it got shipped (at least I got the shipping confirmation) but they never arrived. I just found out that they didn't even bother using the correct country to send the figures to, which is why I never received my figs. Ah well.

  • @Novelty – Geez, that sucks man. I'm surprised you're as into the line as you are after something like that. I wouldn't have risked ordering again…

  • These two modes of thought don't work together.

    A. This line is tiny we can't invest in having warehouses or a big site. Plus we never expected it to sell.

    B. We knew that there were huge international fanbases and we'd be shipping these things all over the globe!

    Which is it? Huge international demand that you knew about or never knew there was any demand?

    Not to mention Mattel already has other online outfits. If they're willing to invest in making an online operation, they could have done better.

    I'm certain she's telling the truth in the fact that DR is bending them over and ramming it hard and DR is probably the reason that none of the logic that makes sense (preorders, combined shipping, keeping items in stock for more than 15 minutes) is thrown out the window.

    Hopefully whenever this DR deal is done, they can get with a company that knows how to run a business. Also, shipping internationally isn't that hard. I do it all the time. Surprisingly the post office will take boxes that go to China, Germany and Russia, just as easily as they take ones headed to Tulsa.

  • I still think doing Pre-orders would work. Heck Sideshow has small lines and international customers. Don't see them falling into the same issues as Mattel or DR for that matter. Then Mattel could supply the demand. But that would make sense. And Matty is a crazy smarmy toy shilling bastage. Who will get his just deserves one day… Yes one day…

  • @Newton Gimmick: To be fair, "many many fans in Europe" is a.) pretty vague, and b.) does not necessarily mean that said fans would buy into the line in massive numbers worthy of a ramped-up production.

    Rather, the thinking may have been that a large proportion of the line's sales–perhaps 20%-30%–would be international customers, and therefore having an international option was important to any success the line might have.

    Basically what I'm saying is I'm not faulting Mattel for playing it safe initially. And it does sound like they got stuck with a raw deal by trying to ensure their international customers would be served. Were their better (and possibly more costly) options than DR? I don't know, and since I don't know I'm not going to judge Mattel for choosing DR.

    But given how notoriously cautious their lawyers are, I do think it's surprising they're locked into this contract with DR when DR can't deliver. But again, for all I know, there aren't even any good alternative to DR out there. Which puts the onus on DR to find a better way to serve Mattel's customers. You'd think the profits they're making from their deal with Mattel would allow them to upgrade their servers and perhaps implement some new software, like waiting rooms or reserving toys for a few minutes once they're in the cart.

  • Yes Mattycollector was started so they had an online outlet for MOTUC to be sold through so the post does make sense from that point of view at that point in time.

    What doesn't make sense is that now a year or two later Matty has expanded to distribute other lines, not just MOTUC. Right now nine different lines being sold in one form or another on the site. Though some of them are also being sold at retail a large percentage of what MATTY is selling is stuff you can only get through the site so you would think that some of the budget of all those lines would go to support the site that these figures are going to be sold on.

  • newton is w/ my thinking, the "ships international" thing is a joke. if you, as a business, don't know how to ship internationally, you're retarded. so this crap, they may have been haggling over price tag, but if DR is the only folks on the WWW who ship internationally, i will give myself ebola.

    also, she double speaks, in that "the line is small, there's not a lot of cash to spend on logistics" vs "the line has taken off like we couldn't predict and it's ruining DR's ability to manage such a high volume product"

    also, i'd like to point out that having all that traffic on the website at once is entirely mattel's fault… why aren't we scheduling motuc mondays, dcuc tuesdays, gb wednesdays, thurs we reserve for processing orders, and fridays we ship? that way, we distribute web traffic, have a day free of new orders to get the work done, and we can still combine shipping. there, i did it, i'm smarter than everyone at mattel, and everyone at digital river. if they decide to add any more lines at matty collector, add them to a low volume day like gb day.

    also, it's a crock about the warehousing and all that shit. here's the question i'd ask… does motuc have it's own factory? or is it made in a contracted factory that makes a shit ton of other mattel properties? in other words, we aren't warehousing or producing JUST motuc, we could easily store motucs in the warehouse behind a stack of barbies. if the production is so small, i can't help but think that sandwiching in it's needs, between like hot wheels and barbie, would be far more cost effective than keeping everything completely separate. why does it fall on motuc to have it's own warehouse? why can't dcu, gb and motuc share a warehouse, thus splitting the cost of warehousing across three properties' budgets? or did i just let that cat out of the bag?

    more over, if international fans are such a priority, and such a huge chunk of the market, why aren't they getting their own process? like, we alot X number from the production whole, we put that up at roughly 2 am EST so that the european fans have a crack at their toys at a reasonable hour for them to buy, then, if they sell through the foreign allotment completely, any internationals who missed out get another crack at the regular american sale time… now, i know what you're saying… "but dayraven, that gives the dirty euro trashies an advantage over us americans cuz they get to pay first!!" to which i respond "whoa nelly! right now, the europeans are logging at between 6 and 8 pm (in the biggest markets) while we log on at noon… they're home, for the most part, relaxing after a hard day's work… putting the european sale up at 2AM EST would make that 8 to 10 am local time… meaning they'd have to take off work, or schedule a day off, or be sneaky on work computers… just like we have to do now. that's fair. and any advantage they gain in buying early is subverted by the additional shipping they're paying. if i had to go from paying 8 bucks shipping to 20, i'd want an edge too."

    besides, if we're that hackled about it, we just move to splitting the production up to two sales dates on consecutive weeks and leave start times as it. would it really suck any less if matty day became matty days, on the 8th and 15th of the month? and again, that would help stem some traffic for DR's poor little overtaxed servers.

    that's the problem w/ being a member of "team solution"… we don't settle for shitty answers that don't solve problems.

  • @Poe:

    I have to say i agree on most of your points.

    even though they thought the line was small and large foriegn fan bas are a bit contradictory they ARE a bit vague on what large actually means.

    there may not be as many options of companies that do oversees business like this as well.

    however, a billion dollar company A. could find a company willing to ddo this better or B. create a site to sell their own goods especially in this day and age of the importance of having an online presence.

    I am also surpised, with the veracity of mattel's laywers that DR wouldn't have breached some part of a contract by not being able to handle the increased bandwidth.

    I assume they signed a 3,5 or 10 year contract with DR as that is the standard locked in rate. i pray it wasn't 10.

    Since it was a new site/venture i would assume it was a 3 year deal with a renewal option after that. They wouldn't want to lock themselves into a contract for a site that may have tanked and only sold the 6 originally slated figures(plus the other random mattel stuff).

  • There's no incentive for DR to invest in upgrading their servers or changing their operation in any way, as they're under a seemingly unalterable contract with Mattel. There's no incentive for Mattel to seek another ecommerce partner, or to "force" DR to change, as they're meeting their sales targets on most items (and the items that don't sell out instantly are chalked up to lack of fan interest, not lack of DR competence), and haven't shown any signs that they're interested in making more money by growing any Mattycollector lines beyond their current sales levels. So, nothing's going to change until sales on MOTUC (especially) or all Mattycollector product in general decline, and even then Mattel would need to get the message that the drop was due solely to dissatisfaction with the way the site works. And we all know that isn't going to happen.

  • I think Matty has been playing this one close to the chest since the beginning. Even since the first figure was previewed at SDCC(?) and created a huge buzz. There was no way of telling the lien would have taken off like it has. With that "State of MOTUC" they basically came out and said that it would have only gone to Man-At-Arms or Hordak had there not been enough support for the lien.

    It just sucks that in this day and age of ecommerce that DR doesn't have any better solutions to offer

  • @dayraven: Oddly, I agree with many of your points. Here's what my issue would be with having different product lines available on different days: I would have to pay shipping, say, 3 or 4 different times depending on how many lines I collect. Now believe me, I am incensed by the cluster-f that goes on on the ides of each month, however I DO like that I can get a DCUC, a Ghostbuster, and two MOTUCs, and pay a (relatively) low combined shipping cost. I would REALLY hate to pay shipping individually for each line.

  • I buy it. I just don't think it's worth Mattel's time to answer these questions or disclose answers, because the fanbase by and large has no clue how business is done and expect change to happen within seconds of posting a complain on the internet and that Mattel is going to use all of its capital on expensive yet pointless changes. Better, really, to just kill the MOTUC line – that's the one thing that would actually please everyone, since everyone's been doomsaying from the beginning that incompetent Matty and DR have sabotaged the line and want it to fail.

  • Besides all DR and Matty problems, their international shipping charges is the lowest. I live in Brazil and buy toys from ebay and stores all over the world.

    $9.95 for a box with two figures is CHEAP.

    People complain about the price of the figures and all, but my MOTUCS cost are cheaper than NECA's figures here for example.

  • @Reverend Ender: that's why i suggested fri as the universal ship date… in other words, all the orders for product that you would place on mon, tues, and wed would be filed under your log-in account on thurs and combined, so the fri box would include everything you'd ordered from that buying cycle (like the pile of loot option from bbts)… i'm in our corner on this one rev end, i want the customers to get the best deal we can, but then still keep things sensible from a business perspective.

  • @DiegoSanchez

    That's actually pretty excellent for shipping!

    It does make me wonder why I pay the same amount to have it shipped. That was a very frustrating part of only being able to get Faker on Tuesday. $10 and change is nice for 3 figures, but $8.70 is pretty rough for one.

    It's good to see some explanation, they're basically in over their heads. It's frustrating because the traffic jams have only added to the rarity or at least perceived rarity of the line, increases panic, increases traffic, and so on. It will never happen, but I wish they'd release percentages of customers who buy 10 vs 1 or 2. Are bulk buys keeping the line going, or would everything still sell out quickly with a 1 per person limit?

  • @Poe: I agree with that. It was probably just a case of vague double talk. I do wonder why they would lock themselves into a long term deal with a company if their expectations were so low, though. I mean Mattel originally said figures would last a month. Now they last minutes. They have to be selling WAY WAY more than those original estimates. Yet, no one ever thought that was possible? How the hell did this project get greenlit then?

    I don't know the exact costs of sucha venture and it'd be silly to say that I do. What I do know though is that it's not rocket science to set up a better system (obviously they can't because of the contracts) because I know other much smaller places that offer the same services. A warehouse and a more logical setup would fix a ton of problems.

    @dayraven: Some great ideas. I don't know if it's red tape, contracts or fear that's put Mattel into their current situation, but it is pretty odd. Even if none of Mattel's other website deal with the amount of traffic that MattyCollector does, there's no doubt that those other websites that Mattel runs has warehouses and such. Why would a site that apparently is more popular, get less efficiency?

    For what it's worth I think the DR people have improved with Mattel's help on certain things. The all in one page, subscriptions going out on time, etc. Of course it's sort of like fixing a leaky faucet on the Titanic, though.

  • @dayraven: Gotcha, I guess I missed that part. That sounds terrific to me, but I think the logistics of it would cause all of DR's employees' brains to explode. Then their servers would kill millions in an attempt to take over the world. And fail.