Rising Prices: When Is Too Much REALLY “Way Too Much”?

January 10, 2015 – Hasbro has announced that the prices for its The Black Series 3.75″ action figures will rise $2.00 to $3.00 per figure effective immediately (from the $10-$11 MSRP last year). Already, reports are coming in that certain stores, such as Target, have substantially bumped up their retail prices even higher. The Target prices range from $12.99 to as much as $15.29 for a 3.75″ figure.

For many collectors, the huge price jump (30% or more) is inexplicable in light of falling crude oil prices. To add insult to injury, the quality of Hasbro’s figures (poor or inconsistent paint applications; fewer points of articulation or accessories) has deteriorated since 2012. And that’s assuming you can even find any desirable figures for sale at retail, which is another discussion altogether.

What does this all mean for the collecting community? On numerous online forums/fora, quite a few collectors are saying this is the end of the line for them. No more purchases. The price point is simply too high. Others are willing to pay more, but only if the paint applications, accessories and quality control improve.

A year ago, we wrote a similar article on the inexorable rise in prices. The question then, as now, is “Are the price rises reasonable?” With low inflation and falling crude oil prices, the prices of Star Wars action figures should not be shooting through the roof. Or is this all a well-thought out plan, eleven months before the premiere of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, to offer sticker shock now in hopes that consumer anger will subside by year’s end?

So let’s look back and see what retail was charging a decade or so ago:

    ORIGINAL TRILOGY COLLECTION price range (2004-2005):

Luke Skywalker – Training on Dagobah (OTC/#01): $4.00 Kmart (Dec. 2004)

Princess Leia Bespin Gown (ESB)(OTC/#18): $4.99 Kmart (Dec. 2004)

Greedo (OTC/#22): $4.79 Target (Dec. 2004)

Yoda – Dabogah Training (OTC/#02): $6.99 Target (Jan. 2005)

Bib Fortuna (OTC/#31): $2.00 Walmart (Jan. 2005)

Princess Leia Organa (OTC/Leia): $9.99 ToysRUs (Jan. 2005)

The above examples are a representative price range for the 3-and-3/4″ action figures during a two-month period. ToysRUs tended to be priced higher, so the Princess Leia OTC Vintage Collection ($9.99) is a high-end outlier — just as Walmart tended to be the most competitively priced at the bottom end for a Bib Fortuna OTC at $2.00 (!), another outlier.

In my analysis, the typical or average retail price was somewhere in the middle between $4.00 to $4.99. Notice that even among one retailer, the prices fluctuated. For example, Kmart’s range was $4.00 to $4.99. Target’s range was $4.79 to $6.99. And every once in a while, they would have a fantastic sale (2-for-1) or a clearance to get rid of the unsold peg-warmers. Those were the good ol’ days when you would stock up and quickly build your collection.

And a year or two earlier, prices were even lower. Here’s another sample:

    ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002-2004):

Ephant Mon (Fan’s Choice #3)(AOTC/02/45): $2.99 KBToys (Dec. 2004)

R2D2 Droid Factory Flight (AOTC/03/09): $3.35 Target (Dec. 2003)

Barriss Offee, Luminara Unduli’s Padawan (AOTC 3/12): $4.79 Target (Nov 2003)

Ashla and Jempa Jedi Padawans (AOTC/03/16): $4.99 ToysRUs (Nov. 2003)

Clone Wars: Durge (Clone Wars/03/46): $5.49 Kmart (Dec. 2003)

The observation here (other than the sad demise of the bankrupt KBToys, which closed in Feb. 2009) is that the price range appeared reasonable, from the low-end of KBToys ($2.99) to the higher-but-still-reasonable ToysRUs ($4.99). And for whatever reasons, Kmart was the high outlier at $5.49.

CONCLUSION: So what are all these figures worth to you? Nobody purchases just one figure. In 2015, how does a serious collector justify spending hundreds, even thousands of dollars, to collect a wave or a line (assuming he/she has the funds to spend and can find them)? How will rising prices affect consumer behavior? Or will we be forced to be far more selective in the future? As one fan put it recently, “Well, I’m out. Guess I’ll only collect vintage stuff from now on.”

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