TNI Editorial: The Frustrations Of An Action Figure Collector In 2020

by Jay Cochran
January 11, 2020
This article is based on my own personal experiences of being an adult action figure collector in this day and age. Everything stated in this article is based solely on my own personal opinions, experiences and perceptions.

As an adult action figure collector who lives in a major metropolitan area, I can tell you that with each year it becomes more and more frustrating to go out an easily find the action figure collectibles I cover here in the news on a daily basis. Now I realize some areaís in the country tend to be better to find things than others, and for whatever reason I seem to live in one of the worst parts of the country for this type of thing. I have often joked that there must be some kind of invisible forcefield over the area I live in that keeps new product out of stores for as long as humanly possible. This unfortunately I donít think is a unique problem just to me or the area I live in. I think for many including myself, itís just no longer fun to go out an hunt for something you know you have little chance of finding.

So why is this seemingly become more and more of a problem each year? Itís certainly not because toy manufacturers arenít making cool products. Companies like Hasbro are making some of their best product ever for collectors with things like Marvel Legends. Itís just becoming harder to find them, so why is that, and what if any thing can be done to fix the problem?

In understanding the problem, I think there are a number of factors you have to look at including distribution, price and just the perception from the big box retailers of who is actually buying this type of product.

The distribution problem as I understand it, is in large part due to a lack of infrastructure that was in place once Toys Rí Us went out of business a few years ago. Many toy manufacturers donít have the warehouses available throughout the country to store their products once they arrive in port from the overseas factories that make them. In other words, the farther away a store is from the shipping ports found on the coasts, the harder and longer it takes to get product to them.

For the perception problem, you have big box retailers like Walmart and Target who have struggled to grasp the idea that itís more than kids and their parents who buy things like action figures. Maybe grasp isnít even the right word. The fact is, even though this hobby of adult action figure collecting has grown in significant ways over the course of the last decade, itís still no where near the size of the kid demographic, especially back in the toy industries heyday. In this country toys are still primarily made for kids and the parents who buy them, and that may never change. I do believe the kid demographic continues to shrink yearly as their interest turn more and more to electronic gadgets, while the adult action figure collector demographic grows due to growing nostalgia and things like hit super hero movies that grab our imaginations. I guess you canít really blame a big box retailer for choosing to focus more on the larger kids demographic than the smaller adult action figure collecting one. The retailer is always going to focus more on where the money is, but you might argue with the one shrinking and the other growing, itís a short sighted view for the long run.

The price problem is interconnected with the perception one. Big box retailers are more reluctant to carry action figure product with hefty price tags. The thinking being that parents wonít want to spend lots of money on something for their kid that will quickly be broken or forgotten for the next new thing. That makes perfect sense if youíre only focused on the kid demographic, but for collectors itís a different story. Collectors more and more are looking for high quality items that they can proudly display on their shelves for the long term. Things that hopefully will appreciate in value over time, not depreciate. This often means a higher price point. The collector has little to no interest in a cheap 3 points of articulated action figure that costs $10. They want the highly detailed and articulated action figure made of good quality material that can easily cost anywhere from $20-$80, if not more. Now obviously a collectible for adults that costs more is not going to move the same type of volumes as the cheaper toy for kids. So trying to convince a Walmart or Target to carry that type of product is no easy task, and often concessions by the toy manufacturer have to be made to lower the costs so that the retailer will sell it. Hence when you walk in to a Walmart or Target you are more often than not greeted with tons of the cheap plastic toys sitting on shelves, and not the more collector oriented stuff.

The biggest factor at play however seems to be the continued shrinking retail shelf space for toys in general. Each year it seems another retailer is closing its doors. The recent loss of Toys Rí Us and Kmart which is all but done have significantly reduced the options consumers have in finding product. While we have seen other retailers like Walgreens and even Best Buy in recent years try and amp up their presence with toys, it hasnít been enough to offset the previously mentioned losses. For many of us, Walgreens simply doesn't have the number of stores available to be convenient enough to get to on a regular basis.

So with shrinking retail space, that means toy manufacturers are put in a weakened position of having to cater more and more to the larger retailers. It means they have less say on how or what gets made, and often have to resort to offering things like store exclusives in order to entice the retailer to carry their product. Store exclusives are becoming more and more of a problem for collectors. Not only does it limit their already limited options of where they can find something, but often times the retailers that carry said exclusives seemingly choose not to carry them in any large numbers. I often feel exclusive are used as a tool to get you in their door. The thinking being once there, even if you donít find that exclusive you were looking for, you will end up buying something else. In fact one might argue itís almost counter productive for them to actually have the exclusive in stock, because if you come in on the first try and find it, you have no reason to come back a second, third or even a fourth time looking for it. Because itís a store exclusive and they are the only ones carrying it, they donít have to worry about you getting frustrated and going elsewhere to find it. They basically have you locked in.

So what is the solution to all of this, or is there even one? I honestly donít know and with out having hard factual sales numbers available, itís hard to even really guess. I can tell you things I would like to see happen.

I would like to see toy manufacturers focus less on the big box retailers and more on the small individual toy etailers/retailers. The more they cater to the big box stores, the more they seem to squeeze out the little guy. I realize at least in the here and now those places donít have the ability to move the types of volume a Walmart or Target does, but in the long run if the manufacturers changed their focus and catered more to the small guy, I think that could change. Before the Toys Rí Us and Kay-Beeís of the world came along and put them out of business, believe it or not toys were primarily sold in individually owned toy stores throughout the country. I think there should be a focus on returning to that type of model using the technology of today like internet sales to enhance those stores performances.

I donít think there will ever be a return to the 70ís and 80ís heyday for the toy industry. Kids will continue to move more and more away from generic toys and look to things that are controlled primarily by the larger tech companies. Yes toy manufacturers will, and have tried to adapt to that, but itís an industry I donít think they will ever be a major player in, so there at some point is going to need to be an perception adjustment made about profits and market sizes, and an exceptance of which market is growing and which is shrinking. Even if it means a temporary loss in profits, it seems like it would be better to focus more on the growing demographic, not the shrinking one.

I would love to see a place like Gamestop which days as a video game retailer seem numbered put all their focus on selling adult action figure and pop culture collectibles. I imagine that would require some major overhauling and corporate downsizing, but if done right I think they could re-emerge as a dominate player in what I see as a growing under-utilized market. Right now there are about 5,600 Gamestop locations out there. While that number would likely shrink, just think if you could drive to your nearest Gamestop and walk in to that store and actually find the latest collectibles youíve been looking for, or maybe even older harder to find items???

I donít know how practical any of these ideas actually are. In fact more likely than not from a business perspective, probably not very practical. From the perspective of this adult action figure collector though, I think it would be awesome to see.
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Last 10 comments - ( Read All Posts )
Atlantis - 2020-09-17 @ 11:21 pm
On ?4?/?11?/?2020 at 6:10 PM, sonic360 said:

Maybe Hasbro has to open their own stores and also sell online. Hasbro Pulse needs to be improved and expanded.

If Mattel and Hasbro don't cater to these fans they are leaving money on the table. Even if adults only represent about 30% of the market. They are a steady stream of income.

This sounds like the best option. Not only would it help curb the scalper problem, having their own store means they could sell the figures the way theyre supposed to be seen. There are a number of posters who wag their fingers at the rest of us when we say we want the figures (primarily female figures) to look as they do in the comics, stating this or that group would find it objectionable, and the retailer doesn't need the hassle, so that forces the action figure producers to alter the figure so it can be sold in store along with "kid/mom friendly" toys. Whether you agree with that premise or not, Hasbro selling on their own platform eliminates that issue.

Neovorticism2 - 2020-04-12 @ 3:39 am
1 hour ago, sonic360 said:

Maybe Hasbro has to open their own stores and also sell online. Hasbro Pulse needs to be improved and expanded.

If Mattel and Hasbro don't cater to these fans they are leaving money on the table. Even if adults only represent about 30% of the market. They are a steady stream of income.

Indeed, the "direct to consumer" route is where all toy companies that want to take seize of the adult collector market should be investing their efforts and resources, some small companies have already done it, so the big name companies should not have a bigger problem to implement this model too.†

Hasbro Pulse has potential but as you have already mentioned there is always room for improvement and Mattel is very behind on this front, they used to have Mattycollector but we already know how that story ended and now their general online store is not even operational, it's just an online catalog.

sonic360 - 2020-04-12 @ 2:10 am

Maybe Hasbro has to open their own stores and also sell online. Hasbro Pulse needs to be improved and expanded.

Lego is making a killing with their stores and their online presence. And they also have a huge adult following (AFOLS).

With many sets like the Friends Coffee Shop, the '89 Batmobile, and many star wars sets that easily run over $250 bucks, you can't ignore that market. Sure the adult collector market will never be as big as the kid market. But they usually spend a lot more and can be very loyal (as long as they don't feel they are being taken advantage). †Hasbro, Mattel and other companies need to improve their social media and have a good relationship with toy collectors.

If Mattel and Hasbro don't cater to these fans they are leaving money on the table. Even if adults only represent about 30% of the market. They are a steady stream of income.

lazrod - 2020-01-14 @ 6:32 pm

I agree Darth. I used to love going to stores to "hunt" but with "free shipping" like you get with Amazon Prime it's just too convenient to shop online.

My time is precious to me and I don't want to waste it going to multiple WalMarts only to find the local scalpers/collectors have already cleaned them out.† Some have posted that they have had bad experiences shopping online, but; for the most part, I have had very good experiences shopping from Amazon and even Ebay.†

Also I have found that if I'm a little patient, Amazon discounts figures pretty quickly. So add it all up;† convenience, saving time and money and it makes for an unbeatable combination.

Sprunt - 2020-01-14 @ 6:30 pm

The best option I have found outside of stores that are consistent in fulfilling preorders is Facebook. Joined a couple collecting groups where the people have been pretty good about helping each other out without looking for mark ups. Someone hits a store, takes a pic, and picks up anything people need and ships it out. People buy extra of a fig to offer it up to members at cost. People helping people without trying to screw them over purely out of love and respect to fellow collectors. It doesn't happen as often as it should but it makes a difference. Changing people's mindsets from everyone for themselves to helping each other out isn't exactly something I see happening on the regular anytime soon though.†

Darth_Primus - 2020-01-14 @ 6:22 pm

I have to ask, is going to brick and mortar store the only (or best)†option for many collectors?† For me, it's like the last resort.† Actually, brick and mortar stores†is not really much an option for me for reasons posted above.† †Walgreens is the only store I toy hunt because of their exclusives. Online shopping is the way to go for me.

I would prefer Walgreens or any of the big box retailers not get exclusives that collectors would want to buy three of the same figures, like Danni Moonstar and Stepford Cuckoos. I would prefer these figures be fan channel exclusives because those retailers that carry these figures better understand the collectors and what would sale and therefore keep the right amount of stock.

lazrod - 2020-01-14 @ 5:53 pm

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I agree with just about everything posted here.

@JayC† I live in South Florida and we never seem to get product on time. As a matter of fact we usually get stuff after everybody else already has it. Our local WalMarts and Targets are very poorly stocked. They carry the products but they are often 3 or even 4 waves behind, particularly when it comes to Marvel Legends. They tend to be somewhat more up to date when it comes to Star Wars, but the abundance of scalpers and collectors clean out the pegs quickly.

Darth_Primus - 2020-01-13 @ 7:14 pm

I've been collecting toys since the early 1970s.† Yes, I'm that old.† I remember walking into Toys R Us with my parents and finding a very large section of Star Wars toys and what not.† It was like Christmas morning.†

However, my joy of collecting definitely soured when Todd Toys hit the market in the 90s because of scalpers and other toy collectors.† I remember lining up at a Toys R Us store on Saturday morning to get the latest line.† †Sometimes, waiting outside a Target or Walmart with the other collectors and scalpers for the doors to open.† And once they did, the was a rush to the toy department.† †I didn't find these experiences at all joyful.† I quit toy collecting for about 15 years and sold off about 60% of my collection.

However, I got back into Toy Collecting because I could find Marvel Select and DC Direct figures quite easy at my local comic book shop.† †There was never any fuss.† †

Online shopping really got me back into Marvel Legends and other toy lines.

But, I understand the frustration for finding and acquiring figures nowadays.† Especially in light of social media and message boards like this one.† †I mean, you'll see people online with the latest and greatest figures.† And some of the stores they visit has tons of inventory, so much so, the figures are discounted so the stores could just them off their shelves.† On top of that, some of the figures end up at discount store like Ross, Marshalls or local discount stores like Five Below.† That's the most frustrating part for me.† Seeing online that some of these figure end up at a discount store when they were never seen on the shelf of a Target or Walmart.

The Walgreens Marvel Legends exclusives have been the most challenging for me.††

Neovorticism2 - 2020-01-13 @ 6:13 am
8 hours ago, DylanRaven055 said:

There's only one company, DAM, that brings some of the Tamashii Nations products, but they do not really sell them, they send them to a few distributors, which again, are some small collector oriented stores, which most of the time, manage a lot of sales through Facebook, so in the end we have to turn to online shopping.

And DAM is totally arbitrary as a distributor, it gives preference to stores that are its "select ones", it sells them a greater number of figures than to other stores and even allows them to sell the figures at a higher price than the starting price with the excuse that the figure is already scarce.

Nerdyeggroll - 2020-01-13 @ 2:54 am

Fantastic article. The two major problems for me are definitely scalpers and distribution. Living on the East coast†we definitely get shipments in last and I feel like sometimes not at all. I love going toy†hunting but its almost to the point at certain stores its just all old peg warmers which means new stock isnt getting ordered. I hate buying figures online because Im very picky with paint and more often than†not I end up with a figure with the worst paint job. I really did miss Toysrus and when the new one opened up I was very hopeful to easily find marvel legends again but I guess their†new business model is carry less inventory and make it more of an interactive place for kids to play so I cant count on finding figures there.†††And with any hobby there are always gonna be people†that ruin it for everyone that, being the scalpers and baf swappers. Dont really see a way to stop scalpers but hasbro really does need to lock up their†figures by†packaging them a littler better. That being said happy hunting everyone!†

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