Is eBay a boon or a blow to the toy industry? - ToyNews

Is eBay a boon or a blow to the toy industry?

Online shopping giant eBay changed the way second-hand goods are sold. It offers retailers prosperous marketplaces, but also allows ?scalpers? to sell rare products with low RRPs for hundreds of pounds. And are unofficial toys altering the market for good? Dominic Sacco asks eBay, toy suppliers, retailers and collectors.
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When eBay launched in 1995, the premise was simple: allow consumers to sell their unwanted goods to others via online auctions.

Today, the multi-billion dollar business has localised sites in over 30 countries. Over 190,000 businesses sell on eBay, reaching some 17 million customers in the UK alone. 

But no one could have anticipated the waves it would make to industries and consumer habits, from fake goods being sold to rare toys going for more than £1,000. Retailers are expected to have an online presence nowadays, and eBay allows them to have their own marketplace (see ‘Role Models’). 

“eBay is a trusted marketplace and a proven channel to attract new customers,” eBay spokesperson Steven Heywood tells ToyNews.

“We don’t see eBay as being defined solely as an auction website as more than 70 per cent of purchases are of fixed price, new inventory – which is why we passionately believe we are a great platform for retailers. 

“What’s important for all eBay merchants is that we’re a partner, not a competitor. We don’t have our own inventory – we simply enable commerce.”

What about unofficial merchandise and fake toys? Some products designed to dupe customers – like sculpted Skylanders figures – can go for hundreds of pounds, while several parents sell home-made toys based on official licences, like Woolly and Tig, without permission. 

Heywood adds: “We work closely with law enforcement and our Verified Rights Owner Program allows rights owners to report counterfeits or copyright infringements. eBay promptly investigates each notification and 100 per cent of the listings reported to be counterfeit are removed.”

Master toy licensee Golden Bear recognises the positives.

“The fact that people have been making their own Woolly toys is always a good sign that demand for Woolly is growing and he is becoming a firm favourite with parents,” says Golden Bear’s marketing and product development director Christine Nicholls.

“Now the launch of the official range is coming, parents will be able to get their hands on the real thing and of course benefit from the quality plush that Golden Bear is renowned for.”

Breaking the bank

Here’s a trio of some recent high-priced toys sold on eBay:

Moral marketplace?

Some traders and independent toy retailers may spot trends and price products slightly higher on eBay if they know they’re in particular demand. However, ToyNews understands a few have allegedly opened blind packs for rare toys, or sold limited edition versions on eBay straight away, without giving their store customers the opportunity to purchase them and experience the delight of receiving up a rarer version by chance.

Some distributors are completely against this, namely Asobi, which is clamping down on retailers who sell rare Sonny Angels toys on eBay.

“Blind packs are there for a reason – to give the customer a surprise and add to the excitement,” claims Asobi boss Thierry Bourret. “The thought that some people spoil the surprise is very sad. Very few retailers open the blind Sonny Angel packs, and those who do are instantly removed from our list of customers.

“We are no longer taking on web only retailers, unless they can prove that eBay is not their main platform for selling. We also do not want to encourage bedroom businesses that are happy to make just a few pounds per item, as this is killing our main customers’ business.”

Amanda Alexander from indie Giddy Goat Toys comments: “Some traders are listing products at silly prices and so a lot of my suppliers are now stipulating that they don’t want us to sell on Amazon or eBay, as this crazy discounting is damaging their brand and makes the rest of us who are VAT-registered and have shop overheads whinge and moan, as we can’t compete with them.

“In terms of advantages, I would say it is easy to use and upload products to sell. You are reaching a huge audience of potential buyers.”

Skylanders brand owner Activision is not best pleased about its figures being sold on eBay. Some rare versions have been known to sell for hundreds of pounds online, even those with RRPs of less than £10.

“It’s something we don’t control or encourage,” comments Activision’s European VP and general manager Michael Sportouch. “It’s something we can’t prevent when there’s a scarcity. That’s the nature of a new business with such incredible success.”

Paul Jackson, MD for The In Thing, which distributes Skylanders to indie toy retailers, adds: “The morality of whether retailers decide to sell highly sought after products for higher than the normal RRP on eBay is always a decision to be made by the retailer themselves.”

Helen Gourley from indie Toy Hub says: “It can be particularly bothersome when you are waiting on waves of toys to be released in the UK, like Ninjini, which has been available in the US for several weeks. 

“This means eBay has been flooded with Ninjinis, while those of us in the toy industry here are still waiting.”

It’s not all controversial. eBay helps collectors grab hard-to-find toys and some suppliers enjoy the profile boost this brings to their brands, like Flair’s Trash Pack products.

“True collectors like to think they have something that only themselves or very few people have, and so it is an obvious mechanic that manufacturers use to increase the collectability of a brand,” says Flair’s boys marketing manager Anne Marie Noon.

“For this reason the swapping and selling of rare figures on eBay is not an issue for us. 

“It’s totally up to the collector if they want to cash in or build the ultimate collection.”

Crazy collectables

Then there’s the charity aid. eBay can be used by companies to sell one-off products and experiences, like The Toy Trust Money Can’t Buy Auction, which raised £4,300 late last year to support children’s charities at home and overseas.

A unique One Direction Pez dispenser also sold for £1,850 in March, with all proceeds going to Red Nose Day. 

Some Toymaster members trade on eBay and other marketplaces, as does The Entertainer, proving the usefulness of the website. 

With more pocket money collectables entering the toy market, the relevance of eBay will only increase in years to come.

Role Models: Why toy retailers shouldn’t ignore eBay Marketplaces

Jadlam Racing Models opened its first eBay shop in 2005.

It began selling Scalextric sets redesigned into custom kits before going on to stock Hornby, Meccano, Playmobil and more. In 2006 it won eBay’s ‘Fastest Growing UK Business’ award. By 2009 it had reached the number one status on eBay for ‘Toys and Games’ sold. 

Jadlam manager Russell Rowe says: “eBay enabled us to turn our hobby into a successful business within a matter of a few months. We grew from strength to strength, however the boom of smartphones and tablets quickly changed buyer habits. Luckily eBay’s mobile advances have meant we can offer our catalogue of supplies to this new breed of consumers with no extra hassle. 

“Whilst we also trade through other marketplaces, our front door and www.jadlamracingmodels.com, our eBay marketplace store remains an integral part of the business. 

“I believe toy retailers need to continue to embrace and adopt the challenges marketplace selling brings to them. 

“When managed correctly, eBay is a unique sales channel which cannot be ignored.”

The Skylanders collector's view

Skylanders collector and Official Nintendo Magazine contributing writer Marti Bennett tells ToyNews: “eBay is an important and great resource for collectors of all kinds.

“Even if you use Google and go on the seller’s website directly, you don’t have the piece of mind you get from feedback scores and other buyers comments. I’ve taken up interest in collectable dolls and purchased a replacement body from Hong Kong recently. 

“This probably wouldn’t have been possible without eBay.

“When it comes to collecting certain toys, however, eBay has brought out the worst in the hobby. Rare variants, store exclusives and promotional Skylanders have had their prices cranked right up on eBay. There are some people, known as ‘scalpers’ by many, that are willing to buy a shop’s whole stock of certain Skylanders figures and put them for sale on eBay. 

“Some die-hard collectors will pay over the odds to have them in their collections. Personally, I morally will not pay ridiculous prices for something that cost the seller $4. Activision really needs to sort out releasing store exclusives worldwide at the same time to avoid loyal collectors being ripped off.”

Follow Bennett on Twitter @MartiBennett

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