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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sometimes a comment just needs to be a post, part 2 - Blaster baiting

Nate explains the Topps Wal-Mart/Target black/throwback blasters (note - link is now broken) in his insider distributor blog today. We figured it out already, but still it's nice to get the inside scoop on these things from someone in the know. Nate explains the idea behind the move in his post, to give a little pick-me-up to the retail sales once they start going flat. Everything was going great and then this happened:
"Unfortunately Topps has helped by letting you know which blasters are which. How stupid! Now instead of multiple purchases to get the cards you know exactly which one."
Coincidentally, my immediate reaction to this statement was the exact same as it was when I first learned about the throwback blasters in the first place. How many times can one head explode, anyway? After reading some of the gobsmacked response in the comments I responded thusly*:

I know! Half the fun of shopping at Wal-Mart is going through the cereal aisle and buying multiple boxes of cereal hoping to get the one with Corn Flakes in it!

I remember one time, it was my Anniversary. I stopped by Target to pick up a bottle of Merlot and some condoms for that evening. The bottle ended up being tequila and the condoms actually turned out to be suppositories. Long story short, the twins are healthy and we've never been more regular! ISN'T SHOPPING FUN!
I mean, it's the same thing right? Cereal is cereal, right? It's all made up of the little curly bits left over in the pencil sharpener right? It's not like there are different flavors of cereal or anything, each with its own development costs and design strategy and marketing campaign that cost millions to differentiate it from all the other boxes of cereal on the shelf, it's all just cereal! And as for my slightly off color Anniversary anecdote, well, I still walked out of that Target with alcohol and a medical device designed to be inserted into an orifice, right? It's all the same thing! Plus little Chipper and Knucksie are really quite sweet when they don't have the colic because that can of baby formula actually had egg nog in it (milk based food product, it's all the same).

Now, Nate defends his statement stating that you're still buying a blaster of Topps series 1 and you're still getting a box of Topps series 1, just with a different border. But is that what we've come to? INSERT BLASTERS?? The product is so shitty, that there has to be an unannounced parallel version of the set to try to drive sales?? But somehow Topps is stupid for 'letting us know' which blaster is which, so we don't just go blindly buying up blasters like sheep.

The thing is that Topps did NOT announce what blasters had what cards in it. As you can see from this post, there is not a single indication at all on the packaging that Black border cards even exist, let alone they are in that box. The first indication that these blasters existed at all is from customers who thought they were buying base Topps and got the black bordered version. If not for some byzantine government UPC labeling regulation, it's doubtful Topps would have even but the tiny bit of differentiation on the blasters at all! End result: card nerds like us know to check the UPC code before buying but THE KIDS get the luck of the draw. Yep, now we're all BLASTER SEARCHERS because Topps and their distributors want to trick us into buying more blasters.

This is shady. It's shady as hell. I called it a gimmick and it's a goddamn gimmick. To Topps' credit, once they were asked about it, they fessed up. I'll even give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they were going to announce the variations, but Wal-Mart screwed the pooch and jumped the gun. So, kudos to Topps for giving their customers the information they need when asked. No kudos for distributors who think it's their birthright that their customers should just blindly buy everything off the shelves.

Now, I realize this is a business and they need to make money. Nate asks the following questions:

1. How do we sell more product of the same stuff (Topps #1)?

2. How do we get multiple purchases?

The answer to #1 is easy. Exactly what they did here. I have to admit, this is brilliant as hell and I didn't see this coming at all. Wait until everyone's had their fill of regular series one (I had already had my fill to be honest and was about to focus on UD and Heritage), then pop up with TWO NEW versions of the set that look even better than the originals and have a second feeding frenzy on the product. It's like three seperate products in one release! Now that the number of sets they can produse are limited, that's genius. Even so, it would have been nice to see an indication on the box at least informing us of what the hell was going on. A label stating black bordered cards inside, a picture of a black bordered card on the box, hell, even a notation in the odds ratios that black border parallels exist. Maybe to get around the MLB License and the limited sets they have to stealth it like this, I don't know. At any rate, just dumping it out there is deceptive. I love the cards, but as it happens so often in this hobby, the idea was great but the execution was lacking.

Ok, now for question #2 - how to get multiple purchases. A cynical rephrasing of this question reads as 'how to get idiots to keep buying the same old crap that they already have multiple sets of'. I get it, you want us to buy your product. The past 25 years of the hobby has already been devoted to asking this question. First it was rack packs with special All-Star inserts on the top. Then it was Fleer All-Star insert cards in the packs. Then it was multiple products on several different levels like Leaf - Donruss - Triple Play. Then more and more inserts and parallels. Relics, Autos, 10+ products per company. Now we've got multiple packaging styles for the same product. Here's a post I did with all the different ways for someone to buy a pack of Topps. Hobby pack, HTA Jumbo pack, retail pack in at least two flavors (Target, Wal-Mart and probably a third generic retail pack), Jumbo retail packs, Cereal Boxes (also in Wal-Mart and Target flavors) and now three different blasters with three completely different kinds of cards in them. That's TEN different ways to buy Topps each with their own slightly different chase cards in them! THE SET AIN'T BUT 330 CARDS, PEOPLE!!! You want to know how to get people to make multiple purchases? Just like this! Give 'em more options!

Some people will only buy Hobby packs, period. Others like the convenience of retail. Some like buying a cheap loose pack for 2 bucks. Others refuse to buy it if it's not in a sealed box. Some like the rack packs that give you more base cards for the money. The exclusive insert in the Cereal boxes is good enough on its own to drive sales of them. Now you have three different blasters in three different flavors. Some will pick the flavor they like, some will collect all of them. Give us options and let us know what we're buying and you'll get more sales!

THERE IS NO NEED TO BE SNEAKY WITH THIS. I know distributors probably still have nightmares about the acres of 2007 Topps Series two blasters they literally couldn't GIVE away, but you don't have to screw over your customers to try to make an extra sale! Let me put it this way: Yes, you might get a few extra sales from people blindly buying blasters to try to find the magic black bordered box, but how many future sales will you lose though dissatisfied customers refusing to buy a blaster again because the wrong cards were in thier blaster? Which is worse, taking back a few blasters that were left on the shelf, or throwing away a shelf of blasters because someone opened them all up and ripped exactly one pack per box looking for the black bordered blaster? Trying to deceive your customers does NOT help you in the long run. It gives you short term profits and long term headaches and in this economy you need to be building up as much goodwill as you possibly can.

These new sets of Topps are awesome. I can't wait for the Target version to hit the shelves. However there is no need to try to cheat your customers, and it is very unwise to openly treat them like sheep ready to be sheared. Not in the 21st century. Not when meddling busybodies like me can spread the word over the blogoweb. To Topps , Upper Deck and all the people who sell these stupid bits of cardboard for our amusement: You treat us right, and we'll treat you right. Deal?

* Note - Night Owl first made the 'bait and switch' point, while Chris Harris and Todd Q beat me to the incredulity. I merely upped the stakes with sarcasm.

Topps enthusiast JayBee weighs in as well.

UPDATE: Nate's post has been pulled, this post shall live on.

I do not want to discourage insiders from talking about their products. That is a good thing. The more information out there, the happier customers are. You gotta watch those Macaca moments though. As an ordinary slob who has absolutely no financial stake in the hobby at all, I am free to run my mouth off. Hopefully this little tempest in a teapot will help explain some of the frustration the customers have been feeling lately. We just want to be treated nicely, guys.

UPDATE 2: Nate just e-mailed me and explained his side of the story. The post was removed because it doesn't put the industry in a good light. Let's face it, what he said makes perfect business sense, but this wasn't the forum to represent those views. Let's just look at this as a learning experience. This is good feedback for the industry to understand what we want. The customers and distributors and manufacturers are all in this together, we want good products and they want to sell them to us. No harm, no foul and I look forward to future posts from Nate.


night owl said...

Great insight. I just posted my similar thoughts, which aren't nearly as detailed (I don't have the time today, nor the insight, really). But agreed, 1 gazillion percent.

night owl said...

Nate's post has been removed as of this moment.

James B. Anama said...

You hit all the right points with your analysis. Normally, I try to see both sides of the arguement, and I still do because of the fact I work for a distributor (food), but I'm leaning towards the collector/consumer side in this case. I'm glad that Nate put in his two cents. I just wish that he had not taken down the post.


JayBee Anama

Groat said...

Honestly, I'm a little bit incensed at this whole deal. I was at Wal-Mart today and bought a Series 1 blaster so I could do some TTM autos. I was floored to see that all of the base cards were completely black, making them useless for my intended purpose.

You say that Topps might lose customers because of this whole deal. Absolutely. They've already lost me.

Joe said...

Thank you for this post. I couldn't agree more. I just wish the right people at Topps would get the message.

Jeffrey Wolfe said...

I am going to try to retain some enjoyment and dignity in collecting my '09 Topps set. When it first came out I said to myself, finally, Topps listened. And then, just as the hobby was getting fun again they lay this H-bomb of a gimmick on us. Just another greedy money grab. Is there no end to the ways Topps and UD get people to bust more and more product, AFTER they've already got all the cards or THINK they have. The shame of it all. Topps is going to sell a ton of blasters and probably issue five versions of it's set next year and UD will file suit. They say you can't kill this business you can only hurt it. But if this doesn't kill it I don't know what will.

Nachos Grande said...

Here's my take on the whole parallel thing.

I bought a blaster of 2009 Topps, white borders, and was happy. I liked the set and decided I wanted more of it, so I bought another blaster. The second time, the blaster was full of black bordered cards (and I was not happy).

However, I then emailed Topps who responded with WHY I got what I did, how to avoid getting black borders again (or how to ensure I get black borders again, depending on preference I suppose), and then all was good in my book.

I don't know if others emailed Topps. I don't if Topps replied to others or if they figured I'd do it for them (I sent them a link to my blog in my initial inquiry). What I do know is that Topps was quick and forthright with the information - not only did they retain me as a customer, but I actually feel the need to defend them (somewhat at least) on the 'ol blogosphere.

Now, I still believe that they should have labeled the boxes in a better way - after all, if a person didn't read my blog or the blogs that linked to mine, they wouldn't know about the parallels - and that's the whole diced tomatoes when you are expecting tomato sauce (perfect analogy I think, by the way). So yes, Topps screwed up in the beginning, but they did everything else right in my book, and in the end, I'll probably be one of the suckers who tries to build both the black and white bordered sets...

salveste said...

Would it have killed them to label those blasters "Special Black Edition" or something along those lines? I'd be pissed if I bought a box of cards with no regular base cards in it.

Anonymous said...

OK, has anyone actually seen the throwbacks yet? I hit my local Target and they only had "10s." Quick search of eBay has turned up none ...

madding said...

Nate's post (since deleted) seemed to say that it would be another week or so before Target puts out the messed up blasters.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully everyone learns from this. I don't mind different retail versions for different stores but I want to know about it so I can decide if I want to collect them all or a particular version.

Manufacturers and distributors need to be careful especially during these economic times not to run off their loyal customers. Its harder and more expensive to get new customers than keeping current customers.