Maybe you’re one of the sensible ones. Maybe you remember Transformers from your childhood and you get a kick out of indulging in some nostalgia now and then, watching the animated movie with your mates or taking your girlfriend to see the Michael Bay flicks. Although, if you’re reading this you’re probably a little more involved than that. Be it online communities, eBay, buying from and selling to other toy collectors, you don’t have to go far before you run into the good, the bad and the ugly.
For those of us who spend a decent amount of time around the Transformers hobby, establishing regular contacts for buying & selling toys and discussing Transformers-related topics on forums are par for the course. A good reputation is hard earned whereas a bad one can be picked up with ease, so this week we look at just a few ways how collectors, sellers and fans can maintain a good standing among their peers and contribute to making the online community a better place.
~~ The Buyer ~~
Like it or not, a very big part of being an online Transformers enthusiast for most people involves buying and collecting toys, memorabilia, comics etc. We might buy from other collectors directly through dedicated websites, sales lists posted on forums, from long-time friends who are like-minded collectors or through eBay and similar auction sites. While all of the people associated with these sources come with some kind of reputation and history, as a buyer we too have responsibilities and there is an accepted etiquette that can often be ignored.
The most important quality of a buyer is that they must pay. As ridiculously obvious as that statement might be, we all know the type who leaves you hanging for months with the promise of funds or trade items, but keeps you sweet with the odd email detailing their insurmountable obstacles to immediate payment. Or maybe you have encountered the collector who will eventually cough up, but still needs to clear payment for the other 25 expensive things he couldn’t resist bidding on this month.
Now this flaky customer is not to be confused with the genuinely serious buyer who is purchasing something privately of such high cost that it is only natural to want to spread it out over acceptable installments. No, we are talking about the fellow who fails to realise that if we, as collectors ourselves, are choosing to part with something nice or costly it’s because we probably need the money. Soon.
Top Tip #1: Only commit to buy that which you know you can pay for within your means and an agreed time frame.
Another common affliction that plagues Transformers collectors is the loud voice screaming “this could be the last one ever!” in the back of their minds when something interesting appears on eBay. If we had all adopted this attitude a decade and a half ago, wouldn’t we all have complete collections by now? Friends have been known to step on each others’ toes and compete aggressively for the same thing, but unless it really is something unique or a once-per-decade, one should be patient and conduct their research accordingly to see just how rare something is and what the going rate is.
It’s not often that you’ll have to bid against friends for items because in many cases there is enough to go around, it’s only very select items where you may have to compete. That is the definition of ‘rare’ after all, not seen very often. If you do choose to specialise and collect in rare variants and come up against the same people time and again, it might be worth establishing some kind of agreement whereby the first person to spot it informs the rest, and avoids a bidding war and inflated prices.
Top Tip #2: Do your research when buying rare toys and try to make like-minded friends where you can help each other complete your collections.
Top Tip #3: Try not to make your friends pay more than they should by bidding against them, they are friends after all. Not many things are that rare.
~~ The Seller ~~
Many sellers started out as collectors, and many of those who have to resort to making some money from unwanted toys may well be doing so to fund further collecting activities. You would think this means that they know exactly how to meet a buyer’s needs and what to avoid. As far as ‘professional’ dealers go, they tend to take a bit more care as sometimes their livelihood and a significant portion of their income depends on maintaining a good reputation, but this doesn’t stop some of them refusing to acknowledge when they could have done a better job with packaging, refunds or item description.
As for collectors who turn their hand to a bit of selling, packaging of items for transit and timely sending of goods are common complaints. On eBay, it can be good practice and etiquette to leave positive feedback as soon as a buyer has paid for your item, some feel this leaves them open to manipulation and feedback blackmail, but I’ve been doing it for years and thanks to careful packaging, precise descriptions, exact shipping costs (and refunds for over-charging) and prompt shipping I’ve never had a problem. It has inspired confidence and sometimes extra patience in my customers.
Top Tip #4: Communicate with your buyers and keep them informed, it’s amazing how much peace of mind can be achieved with a simple “Payment received” message.
Top Tip #5: If you haven’t got time to send items out in a timely manner, consider selling at a more opportune time.
If you’re selling something very expensive, in the thousands bracket, it is a good idea to prepare yourself for the possibility of buyers needing time to pay and amass funds. Sometimes a buyer will need to sell pieces of their own collection to fund buying your precious toy. If this is the case, it is common courtesy to let them know you have changed your mind about such a deal before they’ve gone ahead and sold some of their most treasured pieces and are about to hand over your cash. Otherwise, it’s just not cricket.
Another annoying trait of some sellers involves them trying to make money from shipping and handling. Yes, buying bubble wrap and cardboard shipping boxes costs money, but these things can be found from other places if you are resourceful. If you are a collector and have toys coming in, just save the boxes and packing materials for re-use. Artificially bumping up the amount of money you receive by listing auctions at low prices and charging outrageous shipping costs just makes sellers look shady. After all, an item will only sell for what it’s worth to someone and not a penny more.
Top Tip #6: Don’t try to make money on shipping, if you’ve over-charged, offer a refund. Repeat custom will more than make up for chump change.
Some long-time Transformers dealers even enjoy the distinguished honour of having collectors pay more for their mundane stock because of that feeling of security that accompanies buying from a reputable dealer who has never dealt in fakes or counterfeit goods. That kind of reputation is built up over years of doing toy shows, selling online and having a strong community presence.
At the end of the day, when you start focusing on particular areas of collecting like Japanese G1, Diaclone, minibots, prototypes or artwork, the community becomes very small and everyone knows each other. It really pays to maintain good relations with people and sometimes keep selfish desires and urges in check for the greater good of all involved. A little consideration for the person on the other end of a deal goes a long way. Reputations stick and people talk, I would never want to be that collector that other enthusiasts wish to avoid dealing with at all costs.
Top Tip #7: Try to keep in mind that people you sell to are collectors, and if you are a collector yourself, consider how you wish to be treated as a customer.
All the best