Sunday, 5 February 2017

Pricing Insanity

It's actually pretty rare, at the moment, that I'll buy any TransFormers in a physical shop, largely because there aren't any decent toy shops close enough to me that the potential for disappointment (nothing new in stock, limited selection, etc.) is outweighed by the likelihood of scoring an awesome new purchase. Out of town, the most easily accessible shop is the Uxbridge branch of The Entertainer. Across the outskirts there's a Toys'R'Us at Brent Cross, another at Watford and the Friern Barnet branch of Smyths (the latter more easily accessible from work than from home). I gather from a trip in to Uxbridge yesterday that the Intu complex will soon boast its very own - and permanent - Toys'R'Us, following the pop-up branch that arrived shortly before Christmas one year, then disappeared very soon into the New Year. The last time I regularly put in the legwork and visited toy shops was back when the Revenge of the Fallen toyline was in full swing, although I did pick up quite a few Combiner Wars figures in the Smyths at Friern Barnet.

We're also in something of a period of economic uncertainty, with the 'Brexit' referendum causing the value of the pound to plummet against the Euro, the US Dollar and the Yen. This would naturally have an impact on the cost of our Plastic Crack, but the pattern thusfar seems to show a specific, strange, yet not entirely unexpected bias. Leader Class toys have long been fairly stable in the region of £40-45, so the RRP of a Leader Class figure in the Titans Return range being £45/£45.99 seems perfectly acceptable (unless you get really technical and compare the likes of Powermaster Optimus Prime or Soundwave with Revenge of the Fallen Optimus Prime - same pricepoint, vastly different levels of complexity). Even the Voyager class figures have been creeping steadily upward from about £18 to £25 over the last decade. Size-wise, they've been reasonably stable so they presented probably the best value for money over that same period.

So, when I visited The Entertainer yesterday, while I was expecting neither to buy anything nor to even see anything new, I was surprised by a couple of things: firstly, they actually had TR Voyager class (triple-changin') Optimus Prime and Megatron (at £27 each); secondly, there had been a significant price hike in the Deluxe class Titans Return figures in only a couple of weeks: last time I was there, they were £20... Now they're £23.

This seems like insanity because, for only £4 more, you can get a much larger, more complex figure. Not only that, the Combiner Wars Deluxe figures still on the pegs (Bruticus components, all) were only £18 (as they were when they launched) and the lone CW Scattershot sitting on the bottom shelf was still priced at £25.

I've just compared the pricing at Toys'R'Us and Smyths online and, while the former is more or less on par with The Entertainer (the 'more' being perhaps 1p lower, the 'less' being an additional 99p), Smyths appears to have kept prices at the 2015/16 Combiner Wars level: £18.99 for a Deluxe, £23.99 for a Voyager, £45.99 (currently reduced to £34.49) for a Leader class figure.

Compare and contrast to some of my recent online purchases from other outlets: TR Deluxes ranging from £13.99 to £18.99 on Amazon, and one for £14.90 on eBay. I've also made good on my promise to myself and purchased Takara Tomy's Legends Super Ginrai rather than Hasbro's comparatively weak and anaemic Powermaster Optimus Prime, at a cost of about £90+postage because none of the more TransFormers-centric online stores had him in stock at the time. That may be double the price of the Hasbro figure in a UK store, but I feel it's well worth it considering it's a better-looking figure which has been imported, and will likely become far more expensive as it becomes harder to obtain.

But I digress.

At first glance, it seems ridiculous to increase the cost of the smaller figures by such a margin while keeping the larger ones mostly stable but, in fact, it's probably a very smart move as far as Hasbro are concerned. Deluxes are likely to be the big sellers, and while some would balk at the price hike, it's still comparatively small, keeping them affordable for the older kids (and, of course, the collector). The only question is whether the punters will feels it's worth paying £23 for a Deluxe over, for example, £27 for a Voyager. Given the small difference and the perceived increase in value, I can see some kids leaving the toy shops disappointed, while others leave with an unexpected surprise.

One other side-effect of these price hikes on official products is that Third Party products - many being imported from China, etc - look like even better value for money in terms of size, build quality and complexity.

Personally, I wasn't overly enamoured of the Headmaster gimmick back in the days of Generation 1 - I only own five: Chromedome, Nightbeat and Hosehead for the Autobots, with Snapdragon and Scorponok for the Decepticons. With the exceptions of Nightbeat and Snapdragon, there was a sense of "because they're there" to all of those purchases - even Scorponok, who I mainly got because Trypticon wasn't sold in the UK along with Metroplex.

I'm still not convinced by the gimmick, even though I own one Third Party Headmaster (Quadruple-U) and, now, a selection of Hasbro's Titans Return and a couple of Takara Tomy's TransFormers Legends analogues. I grant that it presents an interesting play pattern and, in fact, is not dissimilar to Takara's original Diaclone concept... but, on the whole, I'm more interested in unique characters than gimmicks, and the ongoing - and increasingly cynical - reboot of Generation 1, while admirable from one perspective, and even necessary as a homage to the brilliant but comparatively simplistic toyline that began the TransFormers phenomenon over thirty years ago, comes at the cost of something wholly new and unique in the toyline... and the steadily increasing costs mean I'm likely to continue limiting my purchases to the few demanded by my own sense of nostalgia. At the very least, I'll check online before making any purchase in a shop... and that isn't especially helpful in a period of economic uncertainty.

Addendum 18/2/17: it seems that The Entertainer has dropped some of its prices (online, at least) with the new Voyager class Titans Return pretools Megatron and Optimus Prime now reduced below the price of a TR Deluxe (all of which currently out of stock, one would hope in preparation for the next wave), with Toys'R'Us (surprisingly) now undercutting Smyths by £1 on the reduced Leader class figures... Let's hope these prices remain when they finally receive the molds I'm actually interested in buying...

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