Mattel Disney Pixar CARS: eBay, the Conundrum

eBay is easy to hate but eBay really serves many purposes – some not so obvious.

On the surface, ebay is merely a virtual auction clearinghouse where buyers and sellers come together to sell and buy goods.

eBay has managed to trump most of the other online auction houses in the United States and in many countries because most people trust it through its processes and its longevity (of course, that’s not to say 100% of all transaction goes smooth or honestly but clearly enough do).

(Yahoo auctions leads in some Asian countries and others in other countries but they serve the same principle).

Part of the success of eBay and to a lesser extent of others is that you have a sufficient number of buyers and sellers. Just as why they do not hold ‘Old Masters’ auctions in Jasper, Wyoming or on a barge in the Amazon – as a seller, you not only want as many interested buyers but also the right potential buyers.

eBay is in many ways the perfect forum for supply & demand. Anyone in the world with internet access (and can read English for eBay US obviously) can see and bid on an item. You can literally buy items for one US penny or over a million dollars depending on supply & demand.

And of course, that fluctuates – as we clearly saw with CARS – the situation with Crusin’ McQueen in the last two months of 2006 was a textbook example of rationality taking a holiday.

For those that missed it, it went something like this.

This Movie Moment appeared towards the later part of the summer, the Crusin’ McQueen was all new and while most of us had a Sally already, since “new” CARS were so rare, most people were willing to bite the bullet (You can read the full story in our book) and buy this MM set … while it was not a pegwarmer as they are now, after the first few weeks, they were relatively available though selling briskly – since it was close to the holidays and at that point, no one was sure how much longer the line would last so might as well buy it to be safe.

But then a mysterious single carded version appeared that was not featured on the back of any Supercharged cards (showing which CARS were out) and in particularly, it was NOT featured on the back of his OWN card!

There were three different Supercharged card backs which featured either 21 or 23 different CARS but none featured Crusin’ McQueen. At this point, Mattel had just switched from the 30-CARS case to 18-CARS case but no one (not even 1StopDiecast) had any idea what was in each case – old Hot Wheels “treasure hunt’ and variant collectors wondered if this was a ‘treasure hunt?’ Or was it a short-pack? (For Hot Wheels, Mattel packs some ‘treasure hunts’ ONE to a box of 72-Hot Wheels – hence the jargon – short pack) Was this the CARS equivalent?

While Batman would shout “Let’s go to the batcave!”

We shout, “Let’s go to eBay!”

eBay serves as our bat beacon. If we see 1,000 listings …, we can pretty much breathe a sign of relief that it’s everywhere – but if there are only 5 listings?

Then the question is – what do you do? Do you succumb or do you resist?

The bottom line is its your money and you can choose to spend it as you see fit.

In this case, based on incomplete information, general craziness and whatever you want to call it, prices actually hit the $180 range for Crusin’ McQueen auctions. Yes, 1 car – @$3.29 retail (about average at that time) eagerly was sold for $150-$175 dollars.

Again, it’s your money. (just to note, I had a SC Crusin’ McQueen but I did not sell it – I bought it just a few weeks before the craziness when it was just seemed like another release – at that time, no one thought it was a rarity … or perceived rarity). Personally, I have spent that on a dinner and can’t remember if it was that great, I have spent that much on stupidity – getting a traffic ticket. We each have happy, sad and stupid stories about spending $200 or not spending $200 … there are people who wouldn’t spend $200 on an engagement ring 🙂 but would on buying a hunting vest … to each their own.

I bring that up because eBay is merely an efficient distribution system.

Part of the problem is that the distribution system (in particular for toys) is wildly uneven and solely dependent on the stores in your area buying and shelving the proper amount of CARS (in this case) for your population and interest.

I’ll cite my area, in NorthernCal. Most of the people here hate WM and refuse to let them build a giant 200,000 square feet store WM prefers so in NorCal and most of CA, we have probably a WM for every 750,000 to 1-million people … while in parts of the midwest or Southeast, in town/geo-areas of 1-million people, you might have 10 WM’s … not to mention Target’s and TRU’s … while we have more Target’s – we only have maybe 6-7 TRU’s to serve 10-million people … so unless each store decided to order 20-cases of everything, we simply don’t have enough.

So, eBay serves to re-distribute what WM-Target-TRU & Mattel was not able to do correctly.

And that extends out to Europe or other parts of the world. I am not the person who cares that much about exclusivity. I am lazy and would like nothing better than to buy everything while I’m buying Coke at the grocery store (one reason I don’t care if WM wants to build a 200,000 square foot store) and I frankly don’t care that much about jumping through hurdles to buy something (like Blu Ray DVD McQueen) … I’ll do it but it being limited or exclusive holds no great interest to me beyond having it (not as something to sell) but I understand it from a marketing point of view – you create hype and an artificial shortage that serves a couple masters.

Because strangely, if it’s easy to obtain, that thing loses the “extra” luster. How many people fight to collect detergent bottles or gum packaging or even closer to home, CARS bedspreads … not many because there’s no fight to find it.

So, that’s the fine line – what’s too much and what’s not enough? You sometimes have to be careful of what you ask for. What’s the right amount of Chuki’s per store? – 4? 10? 100? 1,000? Because at some number point, you might actually stop buying it because you figure, “I’ll just next time.” Because if you stop perceiving its scarcity (real or imagined), you might put off buying until the holidays or worst of all, stop buying because it’s common. Of course, that’s impossible to predict or gauge as it will vary from day to day and region to region.

That’s the irony – you don’t want too much trouble to find it but if it’s too easy everytime … then maybe you stop caring or yearning because the hunt is too easy.

AND eBay can add to that, giving you reason to be early to track it down, knowing that your only recourse is to pay more – having that “easy” outlet to sell and re-sell actually adds value to that you hunt for.

Before eBay, unless you were well connected, you had no idea what was going on unless you read one of the enthusiast magazine and I meant really read it – sometimes MONTHS later – hardly anyone was ever complete (and thus why older toys are so much more valuable) was that you had no idea if they released a red version to FRED MEYER (the chain) if you lived in a state with no Fred Meyer and because mail order was so iffy, you had to drive out of state to a toy show in hopes to see it and buy it … or that in Fred Meyer territory, it’s a pegwarmer and they’re trying to give it away – meanwhile, the rest of the country was willing to pay 3 times that amount … but eBay changes all that as a secondary distributor … now, if they release a gold version only in Hawaii, first of all, we scream to the company that it’s crazy to make such a limited item and then we jump on eBay to bid on it … and remember, if no one else is interested, you get it at the starting price, it’s only if two people value it – that’s when it gets interesting … and if 50 or 100 people are interested? Then you have name calling and the emptying of bank accounts.

But again, you have free will sitting in front of your computer and you in theory should ONLY pay what you are willing to pay … okay, I know it’s easy to get carried away … like being in Las Vegas … just do everything up to the point before you sleep and marry the stripper. 🙂

Bottom line is eBay sellers post items as a test and those that have interest encourage others … how many Green Ramones sold last week? And if they did, how many went past about $5 including shipping?

So, while eBay can encouraging hoarding or immediate transfer from stores to eBay listings – ultimately, demand meets supply or vice versa. Of course, in an odd way, you can blame the liberal return policy from stores on encouraging over-buying … and not really eBay’s fault. With a receipt, you can return un-opened toys within 90 days for a full refund so the eBay seller has a 90-days to try and attempt to make a profit

However, there are short term fluctuations in distribution and interest causing prices spikes and later price drops … now the situation in Europe or Asia is different than in the US. In the US, everything that is limited is announced (Blu Ray McQueen, Speedway of the South, Factory Set) – otherwise, it’s not really limited unless you a packaging variant collector … (for instance, there are much fewer Supercharged (red) Mia & Tia’s than there are WOC carded red Mia & Tia’s – the value you place on that is your call). So it is understandable international buyers are eager to have it in hand because a) they don’t know when or if it will make it over there and b) if it becomes common in the US, ironically, sellers stop listing them so if you’re looking for Bug Mouth McQ, good luck finding a listing …

Ultimately, eBay serves several purposes – helping to hype the hype … helping to re-distribute product where there are shortages … for a collector, it can be a curse, and a hinderance but it can also serve to even out distribution as long as you have enough sellers … and of course, how do you encourage more selling? More buyers … it’s a cycle … but if the profit for an item starts to fall too much, you lose seller’s interest and so, be careful of what you wish for & or wish against. It’s a fine balance equilibrium in regards to pricing and of course, different for everyone.

eBay is a fair system. Unlike a real marketplace where other factors might come into play in the seller setting a price (based on ethnicity, gender, you’re not local, etc …) directed towards a seller standing right there … eBay is only based on the price you’re willing to pay. Sometimes that’s a great thing, sometimes a good thing and sometimes – you have buyer’s remorse … but hey, thanks for participating in the ultimate worldwide test of supply & demand.

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10 Comments

Filed under Advertising, collecting, Computing, Film, Internet, Marketing, Mattel Disney Pixar CARS, Media, mobile, Retail, Toys, TV

10 responses to “Mattel Disney Pixar CARS: eBay, the Conundrum

  1. Harry B

    First Comment! I bought aDVD on ebay 2 months ago and it still hasn’t arrived! Damn Them!

  2. Sarah

    I live in San Antonio, TX; there are 14 WM, 5 Target, and 2 TRU stores. Sounds great right? Well it is if you don’t mind driving from store to store to store looking for Cars. Nothing is more frustrating than spending the day driving around thinking “surely one of the 20 or so stores in town will have a Car that I’m looking for!”

    Gas is crazy now and I don’t have the patience to do that much driving (neither do my kids). Sometimes it’s just easier to buy it on eBay. That being said I look at every auction for the item I’m looking for and only seriously check out ones with low shipping. I also try not to impulse bid; I look at auctions for a few days before picking one to bid on. By the way why is that some sellers think it’s OK to charge $8, $10, or MORE for shipping?

    I think I have all the Cars that have been released so far. The only ones I haven’t seen in the store yet are Dinoco Mia/Tia (got those on eBay). It may take 6 months but every Car that I bought on eBay I eventually found in the store; most of which I found right after I bought it on eBay.

    (MET: A lot of sellers now are gaming the shipping amount – because shipping is not part of the fee eBay charges a % of as the final assessment so if it’s $3 item with $8 shipping, eBay only assesses its fee on the $3 … that’s why a lot of sellers have been creeping up on shipping …

    I don’t know if its true where you live but I have found the same chain has stores with completely different stock availability. The closest WM to me never even got in the red pallet last year … the next closest in an iffier part of town – often with CARS … the further away one – a giant beautiful WM – rarely anything … so I try and avoid the ones where the % is low and just concentrate on the more likely ones … maybe that will work for your stores?).

  3. jackdaddy2008

    I’m an occasional buyer and intermediate seller, meaning I sell more than most, but I am not an ebay business.

    I have over 700 feedback.

    For anyone in the uk, thinking about buying on ebay, I advise the following to remain risk free and totally insured.

    READ ALL Ts&Cs THOROUGHLY BEFORE BIDDING.

    Ask relevant questions, a seller might have what you are looking for, but not have it listed. Ebay is a community as well as an auction house. For many, it is very much a full time job.

    Only bid on items from sellers with 100 or more feedback.

    Try to stick to ‘verified’ members who are less likely to mess you around.

    Pay by paypal only.

    Only buy an insured shipping service. This can vary from company to company, but the service I use is “US Priority Mail with track & trace”.

    You can access prices from us postal services website, and therefore can determine how much shipping should be before you pay.

    YOUR INVOICE MUST STATE THAT YOU ARE PAYING FOR INSURED SHIPPING.

    The invoice becomes your receipt, and in the event of a claim, you will have to prove that you paid with their insured payment system (paypal) and for insured shipping.

    I am having a problem with an absolute scumbag of a seller from the states right now.

    He sold items to me too cheap, and has messed me about since the auction ended, treating me like an idot, even though i have nearly as much feedback as him, but have been ebaying for half as long! He has ent the item short of postage required, so I have to pay £18 to be able to collect it from the depot!

    However!

    Mr Smarty Pants has failed to understand that as I paid for this with Paypal, with insured shipping, with no mention of this stealth cost in the listing, that I will receive compensation for my this ammount incurred!

    You have to be careful, and its best to stick to one or two sellers as I will be from now on.

    Bulk buying saves loads on shipping.

    I am thinking about starting a UK syndicate.

    Anyone interested can use my ebay address ‘contact member’ function.

    My id is jackdaddy2008

    The shelf problem started last summer, but has reached a ridiculous point as my report highlighted.

    This year has been very worrying, because Mattel seem to be saying they are right, but the shelves are always bare, but ebay is full.

    Something needs to be done, otherwise we are going to end up with an ebay only market for toy cars!

    I am just going to buy from America every 3 months!

  4. claeface73

    wow, when did this become a place for free advertising? I use ebay as a meter for how rare a car is. I was toying with the idea of selling my cars as a set loose a little while back and could not find any auctions for loose lots. This is good and bad as I had nothing monitary wise to base how well I should have done if they sold. But alas, i didn’t. Money is so fleeting, you know?

  5. Steve; AKA: POPPA

    I’ve commented before that eBay is not the place for the usual buyer. Jackdaddy2008 indicates the list prices in the UK are twice that of the USA. So maybe, if your stuck with high local prices or live out in no where an eBay seller may be ok. I use eBay to let me know what may have appeared on the general market. That minimizes the waste of gasoline and time. I have purchased everything at Wal*Mart, Target, Fred Meyers, etc. Never paid more than retail. What makes those high bidders think Mattel or Disney is producing ‘rare’ Cars. They’re in the toy business. When the license gets really stagnant, then there may be opportunity to obtain some less produced toys (like 1983 Star Wars action figures), but, then they are rarer because nobody wants them. Remember supply and DEMAND governs price. If you’re a packaging nut, then you’re destined to be hosed down and lose $$. If you think eBay sellers are stripping the pegs at your local store, you need to use the eBay search function using zip code. When I input 98444 and pull up the closest eBay seller 110 miles away, there are no eBay sellers active in my area for that Car. I can drive in ten minutes to 2 Toys R Us, four Wal*Marts, four Fred Meyers, three Targets, four K-Marts, and numerous other retail outlets. So, nobody is scalping for eBay in 98444 and surrounding zip codes. Even the local antiques malls (2) have minimal resellers. No eBay threat here. There’s just insufficient quantity coming to the stores. Again, as in other posts, when a case hits the stores in my area, even the older castings are gone in a few days. Today, in my local Fred Meyer and Safeway, there were stand alone Cars displays with adequate numbers of the more recent popular castings being sold. If the fools stopped paying outrageous prices for toys that are soon to be available everywhere, then the eBay sellers will disappear. Heck, even my local Big Lots has dumped Cars on pegs. Buy wisely!

  6. jackdaddy2008

    Excellent point about the post code search.

    Could it be possible that your nearest seller is traveling 110 miles and clearing all your shelves?

    I think it is simply that Mattel are failing to deliver what we want, with their ridiculously and badly thought out packaging/shipping technique.

    They seem to be concentrating on securing new collectors, but in the process have lost me, an existing one for the merchandise on the next movie (assuming of course that Disney give them the contact to produce die cast for the next one, they very well might not).

  7. Monica

    Great idea, I tried the zip code ebay search and there were 174 CARS diecast items within 100 miles of my zip (mostly the new releases BTW, Chuki, Lightning Ramone, Gaspirin and Tow). No wonder my Targets, WM and TRU’s are always BARE! Truthfully though, I was really able buy almosts all of our CARS from Target and TRU, the Walmarts in my area are both less convenient to get to and almost never have any stock. So I had to resort to ebay for the WM exclusives. On the other hand, if I had been patient enough, I could have just waited for the general roll out of those too. Actually, those were the first CARS I have bought on eBay, becasue I just wasn;t willing to pay the markup and shipping.

    About ebay generally, I have been an avid ebayer for a long time now. At first, I was a little sad that it made it so easy to get things I used to have to hunt for. I used to have to really search the antiques and flea markets for certain things. Then came ebay and all of a sudden there were 500 to choose from at any given time. But then I realized that the hunt wasn’t necessarily over, just slightly modified. I still had to hunt for the best deal and beat out other ebayers. Still very fun. I also love that I can find things on ebay that I really would never be able to otherwise. Like my favorite childhood book that is now out of print. $3 and I am reading it with my little guys, woohoo!

    So, overall, it bums me out that ebay provides such an easy outlet that people snatch up all the new CARS off the shelves and mark them up, on the other hand, I really do love ebay for enabling me to find things that I would otherwise not be able to.

  8. Bill

    I thought Metro did a great job on this post about Ebay. The info is right on. It is like any other free market entity. Prices on anything are driven by supply and demand. That’s why gas is nearing $4.00 a gallon average nationwide in the US. I have paid to little for some items and I have paid to much for some items on Ebay. But, it was always my choice what amount to bid. It doesn’t take a lot of effort in this area to get to the new stuff (if it makes it to the pegs) just a little research on the stocking trends of the different stores. We have 11 WM within a 25 mile radius and only 1 TRU, 2 TGT, and 2 KM. The stocking patterns differ from store to store. The bottom line is if you have to be the first on the block to get the new stuff sometimes you will pay more if you choose. But remember most Cars will be much easier to find within 4 to 6 weeks, in most areas if you can wait. I think Mattel could do a much better job on the supply end of things but they are not just concerned with the Cars line. They are out to make $ wherever it is to be made. That is why the Cars line has been slowed some to make way for May 9 (Go Speedracer , Go!) It does get frustrating when we are focused on one line of interest, but that’s how the Mattel marketing machine rolls. There is probably someone out there complaining about why some stores take up so much shelf space for Cars. Oh well, they just don’t understand!

  9. Hi there,

    I’m not sure if I’m even in the right place, and I apologise for that, but I am just looking for a little help.

    I’ve searched on the internet for a visual checklist of the die-cast cars in the Mattel Cars series. I know there’s a fair few! We’re not collectors, but my 3 year old loves the movie and actually plays with them. I’m not interested in varient packaging or different cards, just the cars (although I’m very tempted to become a serious collector, comics is enough for me right now!).

    I’ve found that all the cars are not listed on the back of the packaging, only certain ones, so it would be helpful if she could have a list where she could tick them off, and also tell Nana which one’s she hasn’t got yet 😉

    Again, apologies if I’m in the wrong place or if this has been answered before, I’ve tried to have a search through old posts but can’t find what I’m looking for,

    Many thanks in advance

    Kellie

    (MET: We have a free checklist/spreadsheet online HERE and the we just re-posted an update to our visual checklist (front page of blog) … we’re only up to 7 CARS on the visual checklist).

  10. jackdaddy2008

    Theres only one Chuki within 100 mile of me in the uk on ebay.

    It will sell for £6 – £12.

    (MET: I’ve been in the UK, I bought a magazine for £15 … (and that was like 2 years ago) I’ll trade you 2 Chuki’s for it … 🙂 )

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