I did something incredibly stupid recently, I looked up all the figures I had on pre-order across the internet and totaled the amount. I have over $1000 invested in pre-orders for toys that do not even exist currently. Discussion about the pre-order culture that permeates the Transformers fandom is not new, but taking stock of how deeply I had gotten into it myself really shocked me into re-evaluating how I go about buying toys. That re-evaluation resulted in my placing further pre-orders for MakeToys Gundog, Ocular Max Sphinx Alternative and Masterpiece Ramjet. So, instead, I asked a few more sensible and wise folks what their opinion on the New World (Pre-) Order was.
I asked not only collectors, but also retailers, how they felt about so many toys being bought on pre-order these days. Certainly in the last year my own order list on various websites has grown to include Diaclone Reboot, Masterpiece Transformers, 3rd Party figures, Q-Transformers, Transformers Legends and Transformers Adventure toys. Apart from Generation 1 Transformers, that’s everything I collect. While I have paid my pre-orders in full up front and taken the hit in the meantime with nothing to show for it, I must admit to being glad of it when the figures see release necessitating no further action from me.
Collector, photographer and blogger Sixo of Sixo’s Transformers Photo Library says the following about 3rd party pre-orders: “I went through a definite phase of pre-ordering at the first available opportunity. Whether third party or official, I was so happy to see characters of choice ticked off a mental roster that pre-ordering almost gave a sense of relief – the pleasure that came from knowing that particular character was safely in the bag. Now though, the game has changed. With multiple companies all tackling the same characters, I’ve realised that sometimes there’s no harm in being patient, as another option is potentially only another day away from being revealed. Add to that the delays that still happen on occasion despite pre-ordering, and suddenly keeping one’s options open for as long as possible starts to look more tempting. I will still always make a point of doing so for TakaraTomy Masterpiece figures, though“.
Sixo touches on the mental comfort of knowing you have secured a toy you want with no worry of missing out, and certainly in the early days of my own Masterpiece collecting I remember how often I came across sold out figures like MP-12 Lambor skyrocketing on eBay. UK retailer Morgan Evans from Masterforce.co.uk addresses this in his comments:
“I have very mixed feelings as per the long blog post I wrote about it. On one hand it helps as a collector when it comes to budgeting and knowing that you’re not risking missing out. But then how many times has an item sold out and then gone for huge money afterwards? As a retailer pre-orders allow me to gauge interest and I can order accordingly which is a massive help, but then conversely that can backfire because customers often change their minds. It’s easy to find yourself facing a wave of refunds if a product is significantly late, a competitor undercuts you or a more preferable product is announced, as with Quakewave and the official Masterpiece Laserwave, leaving you with a large quantity of unsellable stock.
“To me though the worst thing about pre-orders is the lack of protection involved. A product announced this week is scheduled for September 2017 but is guaranteed to be very late so no one will be covered by Paypal protection. When it comes to pre-orders you have to trust your retailer isn’t going to collapse or simply run off and likewise, retailers need to be very sure of the suppliers they are using too”.
The safety aspect is one I had not personally considered, such was my trust in the retailers and pre-orders I had secured, never a thought for the manufacturers behind them. Despite the facts about items being available after release, I guess I still can’t shake that experience of accepting I’d never find an MP-11 Starscream until the reissue was announced where I – of course – slapped down a pre-order immediately. It also made the item’s release feel closer, like I was paying for it, somehow owning it and mentally adding it to my collection.
Curt of TFSource, a major retailer, added: “There used to be relatively few new products on the market each month, so most would jump on a pre-order early, not wanting to miss out. Now with several new releases a week, and a lot of QC issues with 3rd party products, many are waiting to see how a product turns out rather than pre-ordering. The exception being tried and true 3rd parties and Takara, who regularly turn out quality products“. Running the quality control gauntlet has also become a fact of collecting life for those who buy 3rd party products. With the rising cost and quantity of these items, as well as the track record of some companies, collectors can’t be blamed for holding on to their cash for a little while longer with desirable products just to let the canaries put them through the motions.
While our contributors so far have highlighted some of the issues with pre-orders, for others it has gone further and negatively affected their collecting experience. Jon Strong of Drinking About Robots said: “My thoughts on the pre-order culture? Frightening. Full price pre orders I guess fair enough, and they’ve been around since the Year Dot. But things are different now.. retailers are offering up, and I guess by request (surely not something else?) deposit options and pay schemes to cover the sheer glut of releases. And it is a serious amount of gear that comes our way these days.Go and make a list of everything released this year, add it up and breathe slowly. It’s insane.
“And the problem is that everything seems to hit all at once anyway. Last month you had Sphinx, Gundog, Tracks, Wrath, Chrome Guttur, Spartan, Scouts and Sniper, the Legends Fembots etc etc. Did your £3.50 apiece or whatever it was secure all those or did you have to bail on a few? While this is guesswork, these deposit schemes wouldn’t surprise me as something initially borne out of minimum order quantities forced on retailers by 3P companies and this option has found its way into the norm full stop. We’re a captive market. Take a step back though, in terms of locking down and securing your toy, what does actually sell out anyway, and I do mean sell out, not turn up two weeks after the first lot has sold through? Maketoys Cupola found itself in Kapow’s sale not long ago and that is a potential toy of the year. Fanstoys Soar is is residence in various retailers Sales section. They’re not all that hard to get hold of are they? I just do not see the need for the mad scramble for every damn figure”.
Jon’s points on how even the very best figures of the last 12 months are still available and how the pre-order offer has changed at some retailers to include a deposit system are somewhat at odds with the recently learned reflex reaction of someone like me who will shove all the dollars down with my preferred retailers for whatever item upon announcement, and I can certainly attest to being tempted by a pay later scheme like the deposits. In the case of somewhere like Anime Export, the excuse could be the discounted pre-orders selling out and getting in early to secure a cheaper overall price. But that webstore comes with its own complications beyond the pre-order circus.
Our last contribution comes from UK collector and retailer James Wilson who is in charge of toys at Orbital Comics in London. He gives us a history of his own collecting and how it’s affected him, his associations with it, his insight as a retailer and a positive parting message: “Personally, it took a lot of the fun out of collecting for me, but at the same time, the market is very different these days. Pre-internet purchasing I would go on regular toy hunting trips with collecting buddies. That changed as I became more interested in Japanese releases of figures, which I had to import, and the easiest way to do that was via the internet. As online purchasing grew into my primary source for toy buying, pre-orders were definitely the way to go to make sure I didn’t miss anything. This fed my hoarding obsession and after a while I realised I was just buying things I didn’t want just because they existed. Now, obviously, I can’t blame pre-orders for that, but it is something that I associate closely with my darker days of collecting.
“These days, pre-orders are much more prevalent, mainly due to the product being offered (mostly looking at the 3P scene, but even TakTom do limited runs via TakaraTomy Mall), but still I avoid it myself as I prefer to make decisions on figures after seeing final product pictures on release or handling them at a pub meet. I still get very tempted to pre-order some products when announced, but have found waiting to be more financially rewarding as quite often I’ll change my mind when seeing the final product, and wouldn’t feel comfortable cancelling a pre-order as I know how much that would annoy me in my own business.
“Professionally, well, I have to pre-order product to get them in store. Comics retail is a terrible thing, but very different from toys. The toy side of my business is a very small part of our operation and I don’t offer pre-orders for the few toys we do stock. I’m not a fan of taking money for product that we don’t yet have in hand, but as it’s a small part of our cash flow, it’s not something I really have to worry about.
“In summary, pre-orders aren’t necessarily bad, but informed opinions on products would be my recommended way to go. Enjoy your hobby, make friends, be excellent to each other”.
You can give in to the lure of pre-orders for Masterpiece, 3rd party, Adventure and Q Transformers here at TFSource.
All the best