TNI Editorial - State Of The Hobby 2021 - F#@% Target And Walmart

by Jay Cochran
January 30, 2021
Every day I look around, whether itís on my own site message boards or various social media pages, what I generally see are a lot of frustrated and even angry action figure collectors. There are a number of reasons for this including the fact that the world itself just hasnít been a terribly fun place this past year or so. Sticking specifically to the world of action figure collecting however, most of the things that seem to be frustrating collectors the most can be traced back to two sources, Walmart and Target.

Now before we go any further, I want to note that I donít have any solutions to these problems, and in fact we may very well be past the point of no return. My point for writing this article isnít to tell you how we can fix these things, because I honestly donít know. However I do want to try to help people understand how we came to this point based on my own observations having covered this industry, the toy manufacturers, and the people who make up the hobby for the last 20+ years. That being said, this is all just my own personal opinion, and while I have often gotten looks behind the current of this industry that many of you reading probably have not, I am still just someone looking in from the outside.

One other quick point I want to state before we go on is that everything I talk about here is in regards to the US market. There are other factors at play that effect markets outside the US, and I know many of those who live outside the US have their own frustrations to deal with, but for today I am only focusing on those in the US.

Ok, so next let me clearly state what I see as the number one cause frustrating most collectors today. Lack of product availability. The irony is that in the past couple years we are actually seeing some of the coolest action figure-based products being made by the toy manufacturers since I started covering the hobby, but that just compounds the frustration collectors feel when they canít actually find the products on shelf.

Now, I think itís fair to point out that in some cases itís not necessarily real lack of availability, but a perceived one. Or itís a lack of availability only in some locations. For this point I want to use Hasbroís G.I. Joe Classified line as a prime example. Setting aside the exclusives for that line, I often hear people complaining about not being able to find the figures, even the regular release ones. Well thatís just not true. Yes, finding G.I. Joe Classified figures on shelves at places like Target and Walmart can be a challenge, but those regular releases are easily obtainable online at the small etailers, even the army builder figures which retailers have the ability to order solid cases of. The biggest downside going that route however is you usually have to wait longer. Almost always, these things start showing up at the big box retailers even if only in limited capacity. Still, once something starts to show up at the big box retailer, you then start to see those who usually are willing to hit those stores up daily finding the items and then posting pictures of them on their social media. Youíre sitting there waiting patiently for your pre-order to arrive in the mail and then you see all these other people finding the stuff in stores. Of course then you go to the store and all you end up finding is NOTHING. That in turn creates frustration. Eventually you are going to get your figure, but nobody likes waiting.

Still, there are action figures that are truly almost impossible to get your hands on unless you are willing to go to extreme measures to get them, and generally those are the figures that have the word ďEXCLUSIVEĒ attached to them. I would say the word EXCLUSIVE has become one of the most hated words in the action figure collectorís vocabulary.

EXCLUSIVES have always been part of the hobby, but there is no denying in recent years they have become more and more common. Seems like more figures today get released as a store EXCLUSIVE than not. And if itís not a straight up EXCLUSIVE then itís a LIMITED EXCLUSIVE. A LIMITED EXCLUSIVE is when a certain store is given first crack at the product. They get to sell it for a certain period of time before any other retailer is allowed to sell it or even take pre-orders for it. In the past year this practice of LIMITED EXCLUSIVES has become more and more common, and not from just one toy manufacturer. Whether itís Hasbro, Mattel, Jazwares, McFarlane Toys, or NECA, they are all doing it. And of course itís not the small guy who gets these EXCLUSIVES, itís Walmart and Target.

I know most of you reading this probably look at this in regards to just not being able to get the action figure you want, which is a legit concern, but I look at the bigger picture. These tactics of having all these EXCLUSIVES or LIMITED EXCLUSIVES seem to have one primary purpose. Putting the small toy retailer out of business. Now I donít think the toy manufacturers really want to put the small retailer out of business, but I do think Walmart and Target do. Where I fault the toy manufacturers in this, is that they seem perfectly willing go along with these tactics, which is probably because they donít want to upset their biggest customers which are Walmart and Target.

Now before we go any further, this is another point I feel needs to be made, because I see a lot of confusion about it. In general, you as the individual collector are not the manufacturerís primary customer. When you buy a Hasbro action figure from a retailer, your money doesnít go to Hasbro. It goes to the retailer you bought that action figure from. Hasbroís customer is that retailer. The retailer buys the inventory they sell from the manufacturer. By the time you see that Hasbro action figure on shelf, Hasbro has already made their money. So keeping that in mind, which retailers do you think purchase the most product from the manufacturers? If your answer is Walmart and Target, then I would say you would be correct. Even though Walmart and Target arenít carrying action figures in the numbers we the individual collectors would like to see, they are still ordering far more inventory than any of the online toy etailers. In fact you could probably combine the order numbers of all the toy etailers together, and my guess is that it would fall short of what Target and Walmart order. Also letís not forget companies like Hasbro and Mattel make more than just action figures, which they rely on the Walmarts and Targets to sell. The only online store that probably comes anywhere close to being able to order as much product as Walmart and Target is Amazon. This grip Walmart and Target have had on the toy industry has gotten steadily worse over the years, but became even worse when Toys Rí Us went out of business.

So now that we are clear on who is really the biggest customers of these toy manufacturers, when those customers go to the manufacturers and say we want all these exclusives or first access to your product, do you really think the manufacturer is going to say no and risk pissing off those customers??? Of course not. And yes, money talks and BS walks. Welcome to the world of business. Now thatís not to say the toy manufacturer isnít doing everything within their power to try and convince Walmart and Target to carry more of their products. Anyone who really thinks that Hasbro doesnít want collectors to be able to walk into their local Target and see their products overflowing on shelves is crazy. The more product those retailers order the more money that goes into Hasbroís pockets. Look at NECA, we have definitely started to see some improvement when it comes to their TMNT Target exclusives. Itís still not great but has gotten better, which I am sure is thanks to NECA doing what they can to get Target to carry more of it.

I do think the toy manufacturers are just digging their own graves long-term as they continue to blindly cater to Walmart and Target. Eventually Walmart and Target are going to have a complete monopoly on the toy market, and at that point in my view itís ENDGAME, especially for this hobby. Other than the occasional lip-service, I donít think Target and Walmart are ever going to truly take the adult action figure collector demographic seriously or be willing to cater to it that much. Walmart launched an action figure collector section on their website last year, but then shipped collector-oriented products out in bags or small boxes so they often get damaged in transit. Thatís assuming you can actually buy them online.

So the next logical question you should be asking yourself is, why arenít Target and Walmart willing to order more inventory? Why donít they take the adult action figure collector demographic more seriously? Why does it seem to be such a struggle for the manufacturers to get these stores to carry their stuff in greater numbers? Well the simple and most obvious answer to me is the numbers arenít there. These retailers arenít basing their order numbers on social media comments, they base them on sales data, and the unfortunate reality is that I donít think the data supports ordering large numbers of inventory. I would say the data suggests that these retailers should order small, and then if a particular item shows an increased demand, go back and re-order more of it. This of course then takes longer time for the item to show up in greater numbers. From the retailer stand point, my guess is they think its better to order conservatively to ensure they sell through their initial inventory than ordering large numbers and being stuck with unsold inventory that collects dust and eventually goes on clearance. You know when you sit there waiting for stuff to go on clearance because you donít want to pay full price. Well short term that may be a good strategy for your wallet, and weíve probably all done it. Long term however it sends a message to the retailers that they shouldnít be ordering larger numbers of the stuff.

So why the exclusives? If there arenít that many collectors out there, why bother carrying it at all, let alone to do it exclusively? Well keep in mind I didnít say there wasnít money to be made here. Itís probably a drop in the bucket for Walmart and Targetís overall bottom line, but thatís not to say there isnít money being made.

The main purpose of an exclusive is to get you in the doors of the store. It doesnít matter if you find the exclusive or not. Once you are in the store, the general thought is you will likely end up buying something. Thatís a sale they wouldnít otherwise have gotten. In fact it works out better for the retailer if you donít actually find the exclusive, because that means you will be back to try and find it another day.

Scarcity in its own right also creates artificial demand. If you as the consumer think something is easy to get, you are less likely to make it a priority to go out and buy. In fact if you think itís going to sit on the shelf you may wait for it to go on clearance. When itís deemed ďhard to getĒ, you are out there hunting for it, sometimes daily, and the moment you see it you buy it. Sometimes you may even find your self buying something you otherwise would not, simply because itís hard to get.

How many times have you focused more on the hunt thinking itís something you just have to have, and then after you finally get it, the item just sits there on the shelf where you barely think about it again? I know that has happened to me from time to time.

Another factor of when the perceived value of something is artificially inflated with these tactics is that it brings out the scalper element of the hobby, which sadly I think has become a sizable portion of the collector demographic. I donít want to go down the scalper rabbit hole in this article since that is a subject that can easily fill an entire article of its own. But I think itís important to note that a sale is a sale in the eye of the retailer, regardless of what the final intentions of the buyer is for that product.

As I mentioned above, I do feel many of these things long-term will have detrimental effects on this hobby and the manufacturers making these toys. Short-term from a business perspective I can totally understand needing to cater to your largest customers, but long-term I see it is just digging a hole that eventually the manufacturers will never be able to get out of. The more frustrating it is for collectors to find stuff, the more collectors will leave the hobby never to return. Instead of growing a small demographic into a large one, you are just making it smaller to a point where eventually there will be little to no one left.
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Last 10 comments - ( Read All Posts )
silverback77346 - 2021-01-31 @ 9:47 pm

I saw this coming a couple years ago as Walmart and Target started slacking on their shelf stocking of action figures, particularly ML and DCU. Then after covid became a house hold name the game changed for everyone. Hopefully we can ride this out and something will happen to get us back on track. If we don't get completely derailed.

Jeddostotle7 - 2021-01-31 @ 9:19 pm
14 hours ago, mako said:

Working retail is probably a lot like being a cop (danger to life and limb not withstanding). You do your job the best you can, help where you can, but because of the job you do, people are gonna dump on you.

Usually, for no reason.

last ichecked, retail employees don't kill aDOJ-estimated 9,000-10,000 dogs per year

ghostbogey - 2021-01-31 @ 10:33 am


Capitalism explained =^)

Such a good read JayC....

Mangle77 - 2021-01-31 @ 9:17 am

The same logic can be applied to the comicbook industry: a monopolistic distribution system and the perception that retailers, not consumers, are the "real" customers, will ultimately prove self-destructive.

mako - 2021-01-31 @ 7:14 am

Working retail is probably a lot like being a cop (danger to life and limb not withstanding). You do your job the best you can, help where you can, but because of the job you do, people are gonna dump on you.

Usually, for no reason.

obs - 2021-01-31 @ 6:26 am

I think Walmart and Target take the adult collector customer base more seriously than you think. Each store features an entire section devoted to the adult collectable world in both stores' Electronics/movie/game sections. They didn't section these areas off for the heck of it. They know there's a market for it so they have the shelving space for it. Of course NECA, Funko, and the other companies have to pay the retailers to put their stuff there. Most people probably don't realize that products aren't typically placed at random on store shelves. Product placement, including how high it is kept from the floor is negotiated and paid for behind the scenes. It's especially important in grocery stores/sections, but it's a thing everywhere. Anyway, the retailers know we exist and they are at least trying. I've been fortunate in that I've had few issues finding exclusives at Target other than a couple of Cobra Island figs and the Tragg 2pk in the TMNT line, so for me it isn't an issue. However, I know it's a thing elsewhere, and the toy companies need to get their distribution issues resolved and make sure the retailers get enough product so everyone can get the items. And for God's sake, please stop making army builders exclusives. Cobra Trooper and Viper are 2 great examples as is the 6" Remnant Stormtrooper. And they're all Target exclusives. Haha.

K9K1N6 - 2021-01-31 @ 5:50 am

Definite good observations i will say and indeed it does look like it's sad how the big player marketsare really stepping up their game to tear down the smaller names and you're right they don't take action figure collecting seriously, even the exclusives feel a perfect trap to bring people's attention to go to their market again and again. So yeah they just want to get drunk with more money and money these days.

I never am sure if i ever did said this once, but usually i don't want to quit my action figure collecting hobby at all because it makes me happy, however i will just say that if the price for the average 6-7" figures becomes more than 22 bucks or at least like an exaggerated price then well i guess that's where I'll stop, indeed patience is never that easy to manage at all, usually i even had the thought of only getting at least 1 or 2 new figures every 2 months to see if i can find something i like, but then guilty as charge or making myself a fool? Can't think of the right term but i do end up buying other things i end up liking or never thought i'd be interested on which is like a 25% that it happens, but i still do hope i can be patient and even tolerant of what's to come, can't say that all of a sudden an something good will happen with a simple believe, if anything all i can do is wait and hope if things can get better for the action figure collectibg community.

Satam - 2021-01-31 @ 5:46 am
10 hours ago, Roadpigmaster said:

In the Star Wars livestream they mentioned changes in SKO for 2022...

Sales kickoff?

80sboy4 - 2021-01-31 @ 12:41 am

Great and intriguing article Jay C. I luckily was able to pre-order/order most of the exclusives I wanted and was able to get them. In the case of G.I Joe Classified series Target exclusives, it made me lose almost all interest in the line, I mean what's the point in starting a line if you cannot get the figures you really want. Making some of the lines core characters and key army builders limited, and I mean very limited so early on really hampers the future of the Classified series.

Unfortunately I don't see things improving much in the near future. I do see a system like the one Super7 is doing were you can pre-order what you want and for sure get it without fear of an instant sellout. But of course the thing here with this is you do have to wait it out for your product, which for me isn't an issue but can be for some.

Whatever happens down the line with exclusives I do hope it won't have a vastly negative overall effect on the industry.

Jeddostotle7 - 2021-01-30 @ 11:42 pm

I think it's important to point out the large number of retailer exclusives from various linesthat Hasbro has essentially reissued through "Fan Channel" sites like BBTS, EntertainmentEarth, Dorkside, etc. in the past year or two. That to me seems like Hasbro's aware of the problem and is taking this as at least a first step in trying to remedy it.

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