Last week, Target sent a shock through the sports and Pokemon card world when it announced that all stores would temporarily stop carrying retail boxes and packs out of concerns for the safety of its customers and staff.
How did we get here? It may be easy to focus on the pandemic or on opportunistic flippers in the past year, but to be honest, the problem has been bubbling for quite a while. All the way back in 2018, I wrote about the run on retail, as I struggled to buy retail Bowman due to the secondary market markup. Three years later, that hasn’t changed – I still haven’t been able to get my mitts on Bowman this year because I have no interest in paying the inflated prices. In the meantime, the circumstances have become worse: nearly every product sells above its retail cost after release; the hobby has exploded over the past year; hobby boxes have shot up in value leaving retail as the only affordable option for many people; and vendors stocking product got bombarded with folks waiting to scoop up as much product as possible.
Unlike its counterpart Walmart, Target attempted to take measures to stop this practice. Coupled with its limit of 3 sports card items per address online, Target instituted a 3-per-person rule in store as well. This meant that each person could get 3 of each product and no more. Quickly realizing this solved almost nothing, the rule changed to be 3 products in total. After still dealing with issues, Target began stocking cards only on Friday mornings at 8 am. This resulted in lines and people camping out overnight for the chance to buy cards. A change to 1 item per person – that’s right, one single box per person – didn’t help much either, as lines still formed by early Friday. It did, however, help products in the mid-tier range; like many other people, I went to Target this week and found hanger boxes of Topps Series 1 and Topps Heritage on the shelves.
So, things seemed to be trending in a positive direction until Friday, May 7, when a man pulled a gun on another man in the Target parking lot over a sports card dispute. The story made national news – never a good thing for a major multi-national corporation like Target – and something had to be done. That’s what got us where we are now, which is a card-less Target.
I have my suspicions that the halt won’t last terribly long. Just last week, as rumors of Target pulling cards swirled on Twitter, Panini executives put out a statement reaffirming their commitment to selling cards in Target; less than 48 hours later, Target announced the pause, telling me Panini may have been a bit blindsided by the decision, too. Target’s risk management folks likely looked at the situation and deemed a potential breach of contract was safer than a liability lawsuit should someone get injured or killed due to a trading card dispute. After all, Target doesn’t make a ton of profit from selling retail cards, and the inventory doesn’t belong to them, unlike the other items in the store.
Panini and Topps both see the retail market as a gateway to introducing new customers to the hobby, and rightfully so. My earliest memories of card collecting don’t involve going to a hobby shop, but rather, buying packs and blaster boxes at places like Walmart and K-Mart. Without the ready availability of retail products at stores like this, people – especially kids – won’t have the opportunity to stumble upon cards, and folks in cities without a local card shop are left with online purchasing as their only option. There’s just too much at stake for both Topps and Panini to let this go on for too long. My guess is everyone somehow finds an arrangement that works and is safe, so that some products can get back on the shelves shortly.