So, what to make of today’s fiasco with this morning’s Target exclusive G.I. Joe Classified preorders?
The four figures (three individual figures, including a Cobra Trooper, and the Baroness with a motorcycle) were sold out in less than a minute. Collectors are predictably upset.
Full disclosure: two weeks ago, when the NECA Raphael/Casey Jones two-pack was supposed to go up on Walmart.com, I had a Chrome browser open with Auto Refresh Plus, an app I’ve used for years to automatically refresh pages to watch for changes – so for example, when the words “In Stock” appeared, I’d know instantly and could make my order. On that day, I succeeded and got my order in. It seems very few other collectors were so successful.
Today, despite not only having Auto Refresh going but actually refreshing in-person myself, I failed. And now I ask, why?
The current go-to for blame appears to be bots. These shopping bots are scripts that more or less instantly login and make the purchases for you. Many collectors believe that this is the new way scalpers are making their money – ordering the maximum number of items almost instantly and then throwing them all up on eBay before they even arrive, preying on many collectors’ (including, at times, this writer’s) desperate need for instant gratification with a huge markup for a toy they may very well see in stores before they even receive their eBay purchase.
Now, today I was aware the instant the G.I. Joe Classified auctions went live. I took maybe 45 seconds at most to get everything in my cart and try to put the purchase through. I was logged in and I have a Red Card, so there was nothing to slow me down. And yet, before I even could check out, three of the four items were gone from my cart.
A few observations.
- Target and Walmart both need to add Captcha and other methods of slowing down bots. This is a no-brainer. Hasbro Pulse recently added Captcha and it seems to be working pretty well.
- Online ticket sellers figured out how to secure items in shopper’s carts years and years ago. There is no excuse for this – if you manage to get something in your cart, you should get at least 5-10 minutes to purchase it before the stock is released.
- I’m not entirely sure the real problem wasn’t the number of items available.
This last part is important. I think a lot of collectors have become so accustomed to preordering toys online, they forget what exclusives mean to big-box retailers. Again, I don’t mean smaller stores like BigBadToyStore or DorksideToys–an exclusive toy for them is entirely based on online sales.
But big box retailers like Target and Walmart want to bring people into the store. That’s the appeal of exclusives for them. There’s no real added value if a bunch of collectors who otherwise would never set foot in their store order a figure online.
So, I suspect the online numbers of these allocated to these initial preorders were very small. I particularly suspect this in the case of the Target preorder. This preorder wasn’t announced publicly by Hasbro, it just made the rounds on a few G.I. Joe fansites. The G.I. Joe Classified line is fairly new, and the exclusive’s individual pages (required for bots to work) weren’t even posted until late last night or early this morning. If there was a decent amount of stock allocated for the presale, I’d be a bit surprised if enough scalpers with a lot of bots were able to buy up all the stock in less than sixty seconds.
Basically, the point of the preorders is publicity. By the time the items are actually in stores (the street date for the G.I. Joe items is August 14), most collectors will have forgotten their frustration and will be haunting their local Targets for these figures. And while they’re there, they might pick up some other figure they’ve been looking for, and maybe some toilet paper and laundry detergent, or a soda, or a candy bar.
Of course, I can already see the objections from angry collectors who are swearing off [insert retailer and/or toy line here] forever due to this incident. And maybe some will, but we all know most of them won’t. If they can find these, they will buy them.
Now I could be wrong. Perhaps an army of bots did spam Target, or perhaps two or three were able to order hundreds of figures. But while these may turn up to be plentiful in stores come August, there’s no question that this backfired on Hasbro (if not Target) in terms of PR.
The same goes for NECA and Walmart. It’s true that action figures have become a niche collectors’ market, like baseball/trading cards, comics, Magic: the Gathering, and–oddly–sneakers. It’s true that in many cases, if not for these exclusives, these items might not be available at all. But it’s still frustrating, disheartening, and annoying to have to deal with these instant sell-outs. And a few small steps, such as Captcha and strict purchase limits, could stem the tide and make everything a bit more fair.