Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Barbecue's Bonfires: In Defense of Charging a Few Bucks More when Selling an Action Figure!

   Hey everyone!

A few years back I was doing a weekly topic called Barbecue's Bonfire but, sadly, I kind of stopped. I'm bringing it back now and I've got a snazzy homemade logo that utilizes the very best of Paint skills and a focus on various topical issues. Today's topic might be less of a bonfire and more of a dumpster fire, though, so I figured why not kick things off with "In Defense of Charging a Few Bucks More when Selling an Action Figure." Yup. One installment in and I'm already defending Scalp-Or, the Evil Master of Scalping, right? Well, not exactly. What I want to discuss today is how much we as collectors should expect someone who is offering to sell an action figure "at cost" to their fellow collectors should expect to receive. Lately I've seen some seemingly mild mannered collectors attempting to go out of their way to help out their fellow collectors who have gotten attacked by their fellow collectors and branded as scalpers. What going on here? Read on and find out after the break...

   Years ago, back in the fabled age of collecting known as the mid-late 90s, scalping was a crime punishable by death, or so you'd believe if you read magazines like ToyFare or Action Figure News and Toy Review. Back then the letters pages (and forum posts from those brave explorers who were then using what we now refer to as The Internet) were filled with the laments of collectors who were angry at scalpers, those unscrupulous, immoral, unwashed deviants who camped out early in the morning at retail to buy up all of the new, rare, chase, variant, and female action figures only to sell them at their local comic shops, flea markets, in printed ads, and out of the back of outdated vehicles in Target parking lots for ridiculous prices. It seemed like the next fearful sign that the Comic Book Crash of the 1990s was coming for toy aisles but, fortunately, that didn't quite happen. While the scalping of action figures has lost some of its power due to the presence of the internet and the ability to preorder many items, the presence of convention exclusives, retailer exclusives, and plain old poor distribution have helped to keep the practice alive. The question still remains, though, as to what defines scalping as prices on some items can fluctuate even between mainstream retailers.

This bonfire is going to get out of control. I just know it!
  This gets me to the real point of today's topic, though: How much should a collector be expected to sell a new action figure for? Over the past few years I've been involved in a number of action figure related Facebook groups where folks post pictures of their finds, sometimes offering those finds for sale or trade. A few weeks ago I saw a member of a group posting a new Star Wars: The Black Series action figure for sale at a price that many other members deemed to be a scalper price. Was it though? The conversation was quickly turned by some members to understanding why the person selling a figure at cost was justified in their price. Today I want to do some math to look at what we should expect from our fellow collectors who state that they're just trying to help others out.

   Let's use a standard action figure from Star Wars: The Black Series as our model. Heck, let's pretend it's the new Tobias Beckett figure. Let's say I want to send it to a fellow member of a Star Wars group named Bob Gray. Let's start by considering the price: Depending on where I buy Tobias, he could cost anywhere from $17.76 to $24.99. Remember that price fluctuates quite a bit. Even GameStop varies in their price as some stores sell their Black Series figures for $22.99 while others sell for the more standard $19.99. It depends on the store. Let's assume that this one cost $20 dollars even retail price. To break even, I just have to ask Bob Gray for $20 via PayPal, right? Not so fast!

This werewolf is a scalper!!!

   Guess what else I have to pay? Tax! Forty Five states and the District of Columbia all collect statewide sales tax (and two others allow local municipalities to charge tax), so most collectors will have to figure it in. In Tennesse, where I grew up, tax is 9.46 percent. That's not the highest (Louisiana is) but it's nearly an extra $2 for our $20 dollar action figure. The average US sales tax rate is 8.45% so that is an extra $1.69 added on top of our $20, for a grand total of $21.69 from Mr. Bob Gray. But wait, there is more!

 How is Bob Gray going to get his figure? Likely I will have to ship it to him! How much does shipping cost? Let's check. If Bob Grey lives in either Los Angeles, CA or Bangor, ME, The cheapest I can ship it to him through the USPS is $5.15. (If the figure were a bit heavier, such as a Gamorrean Guard, the price would probably be higher.) So now, we're talking $26.84 for me to ship a $20 figure "at cost" as cheaply as possible. If he wants faster shipping, etc., the cost is going to be more. Guess what? Bob still has to pay me.

   Most groups not only require PayPal payment but most groups specifically require members to use Goods and Services. You can use friends and family via PayPal but there is no buyer/ seller protection. If I know my friend well then we're good. If we're not well acquainted, I'm using Ebay, or we are in a group that requires friends and family payments, then I need to up my charge. Most groups don't allow posts that say "add extra money for goods and services" so you have to add your fee in up front. PayPal charges $.30 cents per transaction plus 2.9 percent of the total, meaning Bob Gray is now sending me $27.92.

This doesn't even factor in fuel if I went and made a special trip for him (maybe I said that my local Target had Tobias Beckett in stock and Bob Gray asked me to grab him one; I know I've done this for folks before), the cost of shipping materials if I had to purchase a box (I keep them around but not everyone does) or Ebay fees if I wanted to sell it there (9% of the total amount of sale plus shipping, which would be another $2.42 cents for a grand total of $30.34). Sheesh. That doesn't even account for the time and energy to print shipping labels or go to the post office. At this point, is it even worth it?

   True scalping frustrates me, too, but it also costs quite a bit to help fellow collectors out. Keep that in mind the next time someone on your Facebook group requests  around $30 shipped to send you a figure. If they're making anything at all, it is probably pretty negligible and far less than you would spend on fuel costs. Before labeling someone a scalper, think about what the true cost is. These folks selling a random figure aren't Amazon or Wal-Mart and they probably aren't getting a bulk shipping deal. Heck, if they're reselling a figure they reordered, they may need to recoup their own costs, too.

  So, what do you think? Share your thoughts below!


  1. As someone who has sold figures to other collector's at cost just to help them out, I can tell you I do it so infrequently that worrying about costs for gas and time are pretty null. Then again, it's not like the post office is twenty miles from my house, nor is it the only one in the area. Add in that the post office will give you a box for free if you ship it via USPS flat rate, and quite honestly there's no problems there at all.

    Personally, it would be more of a hassle for me to calculate out my time, energy, fuel and other such pennies to worry about. For me, I can take the loss of a dollar or two to come away knowing I did someone a favor. In other words, I get my profit from the joy it brings me to help others.

    With that said, there's a definitive line between scalping and reasonably wanting to recoup costs. The problem isn't the honest person in this scenario who didn't bother to justify his costs down to the penny, but all of the SJW's who came out of the woodwork to attack him. To me, that's a bigger problem than any of the two scenarios.

    1. Yeah, I hear you. I've never really sat down to figure out costs much either in the past when I've helped out collectors. As distribution of exclusives seems to be getting more and more scattered at times, especially within the Star Wars lines, I'm seeing more people doing this and getting blasted. When you're talking multiple figures or some of the exclusives that cost around $30 and are fairly large or are only showing up in Canada, the cost gets substantial. Folks need to keep that in mind as making someone who is trying to help out feel bad and some of those good folks will just stop to help. Also, I thought it was an interesting look at knowing how much someone who "resells" a Star Wars figure might have to recoup if they buy it at retail. And attempted to sell for a profit.

  2. I'm more of a casual toy buyer/collector so my basic rule is this: if the toy I want is available (either online or at an actual store) and the price won't break the bank, I buy it; if I can't afford it, either I save up for it, wait until it's on sale, or live without it.

    Admittedly, I've had very few experiences with online sellers but those experiences have been uniformly good. The only toys I ever bought via EBay Philippines were The Darkness from the Legendary Comic Book Heroes line; Carter from Halo Reach (the helmeted version); and Titanium Man from the first Iron Man movie line. Three different sellers, one offered their item just slightly above the mall price and two offered their items below the mall price. Chalk it up in equal parts to luck and enough comparison shopping, I suppose.


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