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Pin Pal Moe - Deja Vu All Over Again
Posted 10/31/01

As you may recall, a couple months ago I did an article here on the Pin Pal Burns (PPB) fiasco with Wizard Entertainment Group (WEG), the owners of Toyfare magazine, and Wizard World.com stores. Folks at that time were pretty upset, and rightly so, with the business practices surrounding the distribution and handling of that exclusive.

The next two exclusives, a repainted Comic Book Guy and Boxing Homer, went as smoothly as can be expected with such a limited number of figures. Many folks didnít get theirs, but there wasnít quite as much fury over the overall handling of the situation. But it seems that didnít last.

This latest exclusive is Pin Pal Moe. Several weeks in advance to the magazine sale and on-line sale of the figure, they put him on their website (wizardworld.com) for order, but only in 'bundles'. This isn't the first time they did this, as you could order Pin Pal Burns with a magazine subscription for example. But this time they took it to dizzying heights. Not only could you get a PPB with a subscription or Wizard World Convention ticket, but you could get one if you also bought any one of about two dozen shelf warming exclusives that WEG hadn't been unable to unload for months. None of these actually had anything to do with the Simpsons of course, so for most collectors it was a form of extortion - sure, we'll give you a PPM, but you have to also buy something totally useless to you to get it.

Bundling items like this is frowned upon in the retail world. Whether it's officially illegal or not is open to interpretation, and no one is willing to fund a lawsuit just to find out. But there have been times when it's been tried in the past, particularly with Beanie Babies. Many small retailers tried to force people to buy common beanies in order to buy the hard to find ones. Ty abhorred this practice, and they threatened to end their relationship with stores they found engaged in this practice. Itís possible Playmates will follow the example set by Ty.

One way to insure that you get around any sort of impropriety with bundles is to ensure that people have an opportunity to buy the item individually as well. The key to understanding why bundling is different than other, more common practices is in how it's presented. It's quite all right and a common practice to say "Buy A for $50, and I'll give you B free!" Giving someone something for buying something else is fine - making him or her pay for an item on top of another is where the problem comes in.

Therefore, if they make sure that the bundle wasn't your ONLY option, they would be fine, even if they did alienate their customers. And so not only were PPM's offered through the magazine, as always, but they were to go on sale individually, on-line, at a preset time and place. Everyone would get a chance.

Except WEG only allocated about 500 units for individual sale on-line. Considering that approximately 2000-3000 of the previous exclusives (CBG, Boxing Homer) had been sold on-line, it was quite a step down. Not too surprisingly, the PPM figures were sold out in minutes, even with a supposed one per household order limit. Iíve talked with Stephen Shamus about the situation at WEG, and it seems that the overall allocation of figures that were given to Wizard World.com were way down this time. Itís not surprising, considering all the flack WEG has gotten over the WOS exclusives. Iím sure they wanted to keep as many as possible for magazine subscriptions, but by shorting the on-line sales even further they must have realized that a train wreck was coming. Perhaps dropping the Wizard World sales all together might have been a smarter idea.

Obviously collectors were up in arms, but WEG was still well within their normal operating procedures. While it might be appropriate to chastise them for their lack of customer satisfaction, they hadn't done anything nearly as questionable as the entire PPB fiasco.

But they didnít leave well enough alone. Instead of pulling the bundles of products with PPM down before the singles went on sale, they stayed up for several hours after. Clearly they weren't out of PPM, just out of the ones they wanted to sell individually. By only selling 500 singles, they fueled a rush to buy the bundles in the following hours, and those sold out as well. Collectors saw this as WEG trying to unload as much excess inventory as possible, using the desirable exclusive to force unwanted merchandise on to them, and Iíd have to agree.

A couple weeks passed before the next great slam Ė after several months of being Ďsold outí, PPB showed up again in bundles! Claiming that they had cancellations and returns, they placed these additional Burns figures on their web site, again bundled with many non-Simpsons related items. To top it off, not only were these extra items stagnant stock, they were extremely expensive stagnant stock, so that many of the bundles were in the $150-$200 range.

I bet you can imagine that the Simpsons collecting community wasn't too happy. None of these 'returns' went to the poor folks that had tried to order in the first place but had been refused. Instead, WEG used these new found figures to sell extremely expensive items they couldn't move otherwise.

But the hurricane that was the Yahoo survey was still around the corner.

One of the Simpsons collectors that had ordered a bundle received a feedback form from Yahoo, asking for feedback on his level of satisfaction with the transaction. He was upset of being forced to buy the bundle, and was therefore displeased with the transaction, and told them so. They shared this info with WEG, and Stephen Shamus threatened to cancel his order.

Yes, that's right. He complained about the way they handled the situation, and in retaliation they threatened to cancel his order. Theyíve included this disclaimer at their on-line store ďWizard will gladly cancel an order, if it has not yet been charged, or refund and cancel an order, if it has been charged for anyone who leaves negative feedback to express concern over any of the Simpsons offers or any other purchase.Ē

Iíve also talked with Mr. Shamus about this situation. It is possible to argue that the Yahoo feedback forum wasn't the appropriate venue to complain about that particular subject, and there are two sides to that argument. However, that certainly doesn't constitute any sort of right for WEG to cancel orders entered into in good faith for payment and shipment by both parties.

If the order had actually been cancelled, it would have been such a immature and juvenile act by the company that it's simply hard to fathom. Just think about how it would have appeared to customers - Hey, here's a few more PPM figures we can add to bundles next month! We'll tell people they were 'returns'!

Fortunately, the collector and Stephen Shamus continued their email conversations, and eventually cooler heads prevailed. They ironed things out between them, and no order was cancelled for making any sort of complaints that I know of .

Iíve been told that Stephen Shamus is new in the Wizard World group, and that he came over from another WEG department because of the problems they were having. As many folks know, it was only a month or two ago that rumors were flying that Wizard World was soon to be history. I believe WEG would like to patch up their customer problems, but Iím not sure if they have the ability, or if anyone is even willing to let them try at this point. I think thatís going to be up to the folks that buy these exclusives, and the company that supplies them now.

There are currently two outlets for expressing your views directly to Playmates on these issues. First is the petition to stop Toyfare from carrying any further WOS exclusives. It can be found at:

http://www.webpetitions.com/cgi-bin/print_petition.cgi?20622610842

Second, there is a survey up at:

http://www.simpsonscollectors.com/survey.asp

asking questions on WOS and it's exclusives, how they should be handled, and what collectors prefer. The results of this survey will also be going directly to Playmates.

And finally, if you believe your order was cancelled by WEG due to voicing your concerns in any forum, please let me know at mwc@mwctoys.com. I suspect this isn't all over yet.

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