The highly anticipated Pokemon TCG Classic set went on sale today on the Pokemon Center website, but you probably didn’t hear about it until it was sold out. After advertising the upcoming special collection earlier this year, which includes three decks made up of reprints of base set Pokemon cards in a fancy collector’s case, the Pokemon Center and several other online retailers shadow dropped pre-orders on Thursday morning without a word of warning to anyone. As expected, the pre-order sold out in a matter of minutes, while dozens of eBay listings sprang up simultaneously – asking four-to-five times the MSRP price, of course.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The $400 TCG Classic set is the ultimate collector’s item for Pokemon fans, and it was bound to be a hot commodity no matter how or when it was sold. But a surprise pre-order all but guarantees that a very specific kind of customer is going to have easier access to it, and it’s not the kind of customer that wants to play with the set and enjoy it.
Maybe the Pokemon Center thought it was combating resellers by shadow dropping pre-orders. When people know the exact time something is going on sale, it’s easy to program bots that can automatically make purchases faster than any human. We see this all the time with TCGs, like the recent Lorcana launch, as well as collector’s editions for video games, graphics cards, sneakers, skateboards, and bottles of Prime energy drink. My partner couldn’t even buy a particular shade of eye liner last week before resellers got to it first and tossed it up on eBay. Online sales enable an entire class of non-workers to insert themselves into what should be a simple transaction between a business and a customer. It feels like there’s nothing that can be done, but that’s only because no one is doing anything about it.
Shadow dropping Pokemon TCG Classic was never going to prevent it from falling directly into the hands of resellers, but there are things that could help. One process that some businesses use when they anticipate heavy demand for a product like this is a queue system. Newegg has used one when RTX cards were in high demand, and Disney uses one to sell season passes for its theme park. It’s simple to implement. Everyone who wants the product can join the queue at the same time, and then, based on how long they’ve been in the queue, they’re all sorted into semi-random groups. Being the first one there, as bots always are, doesn’t guarantee that you’re first in line to buy the item. The mix of a clearly stated start time and random chance makes the process more fair for everyone.
Another tool that’s been proven to be incredibly useful is a simple captcha. I’ve done thousands of captchas for trivial things, yet I never seem to encounter one when I’m trying to buy a collectible. Why is that?
None of these things will solve the reseller problem – I don’t imagine anything ever will as long as eBay and Facebook Marketplace exist – but they would help. The extra steps would even the playing field somewhat for actual customers, and more importantly, making an effort would communicate that these companies actually care about addressing the issue.
It’s difficult enough to be a collector, but having to see the things you couldn’t buy listed on eBay for three times the price is disheartening. It’s a toxic component of most hobbies, and there’s so much more that could be done, and needs to be done, to solve it.
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