The Figure Swap Problem
Howdy readers! I’ve been neglectfully absent for a while, but I return today with a story that I’m seeing more and more of these days; swapped figures returned to stores.
As collectors and action figure fans, we become accustomed to figures being hard to find due to fellow collectors, wonky distribution, case pack outs, or eBay flippers. Another phenomenon I witnessed while I lived in upstate New York was the habit some people had of purchasing an item (box set items were what I noticed most), swapping out figures (sometimes not even from the same line) with the ones that came in the package. Since I’ve lived in Maryland, I have occasionally seen random swaps, or accessories removed entirely, generally with wrestling figures.
I mention all of this to get to the main point of this article, the largest apparent case of figure swapping and removal of accessories I have ever seen in one location. I had stopped into the Glen Burnie Toys R Us a couple weeks back, and noticed an apparently large restock of Mattel’s WWE Basic figures that had been bare at this store for quite some time. As I rifled through them I noted how odd it was that all the figures appeared to be Alberto Del Rio figures, but I chalked that up to his figures usually hanging around longer in this area than other figures. I had stopped in to the store again on Friday that week, and actually looked at the figures on the pegs, since they all seemed to be there. What I noticed shocked me. At that time, I counted 20 figures who were ALL Alberto Del Rio figures swapped into Sheamus and Rock packages from the Mattel TRU exclusive WWE “Build a Booker T figure” wave.
I got on an online forum to connect with some local friends to let them know of the situation, and mentioned that I planned to go back the following week determine exactly how many figures this included, and to bring it to the attention of the employees of the store. That following Monday I returned to the store, armed with a pen flashlight, so I could determine the extent of the apparent crime. I brought I cart into the wrestling figure isle, and began going through the pegs, pulling the figures down and placing them in the cart, counting them as I went. There were 49 figures from this particular wave. Four of them were untouched, with the correct figures, in the correct package, with the Booker T piece intact. Two of the Alberto figures had the BAF (Build a Figure) pieces removed, but were otherwise on the correct card. The other 43 figures were Alberto Del Rio figures swapped into the previously mentioned Sheamus and Rock packages, all with the BAF pieces removed. I took photographic evidence of the cart full of product and the now empty pegs it left. My next step was locating an employee.
I flagged someone in the isle down, and proceeded to explain my concerns with what I noticed, and explained that the store was effectively losing money because this many figures were not going to sell with the main selling point missing. He quickly tried to write it off as that was how they came from the factory. I disagreed, and went to find someone else. The next employee I found said the same thing, and even added that she removed them from the case just like that. I suggested if that was the case, then they had someone in their stock room or distribution center that was doing this swap before they made it to the shelves. I acknowledged that sometimes a factory will package a figure in the wrong package, but the likelihood of the BAF pieces also being missing, as well as showing up in a solid case of incorrect figures was farfetched. They stuck to their stance, so I left the cart filled with figures in the isle and walked out of the store.
I got on the forum to express my frustration to my friends, and let them know that I planned on bringing this to social media, whether it was actually going to do any good or not. I posted one of the pictures of the cart full of figures to Instagram with a description of what I saw. Then I took to Twitter and tagged Mattel, the WWE and Toys R Us about the situation. Lastly, I posted about the situation on the TRU Facebook page. I was happy to see a reply from Mattel about the situation on Twitter, and I got a reply from TRU on the Facebook post. I sent a private message to TRU per their request, and gave them a more detailed account of what happened, and was later emailed a response that the situation had been addressed, and if I had any further questions, to not hesitate to contact them again.
I avoided the store for a week, just because I wanted to give myself some time to see what the store would actually do. I went in again last week and saw a brand new restock of NEW figures (amazing how that happens when the garbage is removed) on the pegs. I was short on time, so I didn’t have time to dig around the store to see what happened with those other figures. It was a day or so later when one of those friends stopped into the same store, found the figures in one of the clearance bins, and posted the picture to my Facebook wall. The original price of the figures was $12.99, and they were marked down to $9.90 in the bin. That’s not a major markdown, but Toys R us has never been a quick liquidator.
I may have gone well beyond what a normal customer would do, but I am a collector, and I am also someone who spent 13 years working retail, and have seen some gutsy returns that ended up being nothing but literal garbage. I am on the retailer’s side here as much as I am the customer’s in a situation like this. I know you can’t expect all employees that work returns in stores to know every line that they sell, but when a figure in the package clearly doesn’t match the character ON the package, something should sound an alarm. I also know that toys are generally low level on the loss prevention scale, compared to things like televisions and game systems, but on this kind of scale that adds up. Even if the figures weren’t returned all at once, which would have been really gutsy, the total loss still comes up to almost $585 in product/lost sales.
I would like thank Mattel and Toys R Us both for acknowledging the issue when it was brought to their attention and to TRU for taking action on the store level to remedy the issue. I have seen similar issues at local Targets and Walmarts, so all local collectors should be extra cautious when purchasing an item that has an extra piece that’s not easy to see with the naked eye. I know I’ve taken to bringing my pen flashlight with me so I can check the package for signs of tampering before I walk out of the store with something.
Best of luck on your action figure hunts. I’ll see you in the isles.