Can You Trust Retail?
Every collector isn’t blessed with a local card shop (LCS) within driving distance of their home. I am fortunate that there is one in my town but unfortunately, they are moving toward Magic and Pokemon and away from sports cards. Beyond that, the closest LCS for me is about a 2 hour drive north. That distance doesn’t stop me from making that drive every other weekend to see my friend Charlie Heinisch at Middle Georgia Sports Cards. I have friends and acquaintances that either aren’t willing to make a drive like that or their closest card shop is even further away than 2 hours. For those collectors, the options become fairly limited.
The easiest and cheapest option is retail. If you aren’t familiar, sports cards can come packaged in a Hobby version as well as Retail version. The cards are generally the same with occasional Retail or Hobby exclusives. In almost all cases, the base sets and designs remain the same. Sometimes you can’t tell the difference between a Hobby or Retail product unless you find “Hobby” or a bold “H” on the box or pack. However, if you are buying from Target, Wal-Mart, K-Mart or any other big box store, you are purchasing Retail products. If you are buying online, it is always important to read the fine print because you could be buying either product, and the price and contents of the package may be affected by that.
Before we talk about the issues with Retail, I want to touch on some of the positives that can be found from shopping at your local big box. Retail offers a unique (and often fun) product called Blasters.
These are small boxes of usually 8-11 packs with a bonus of some kind. The bonus could be a relic, an autographed card or some other commemorative item. They generally run about $20, which is about $2-$3 per pack and includes the bonus. The Blaster also offers a sealed box that (in most cases) provides the buyer with fresh unsearched packs. We’ll discuss this a little later. Some Blasters like Sage, Contenders and Leaf Draft offer multiple autographs in their products.
Most card releases can be found in a Blaster variety. The exceptions to this would include some of the higher end products like Tier One, Pantheon, Spectra, etc. If the hobby box itself doesn’t provide a reasonable amount of packs, there most likely won’t be a Blaster version. My preference when I purchase Retail is the Blaster box. Beyond that, the options get a little dicey for my liking. There are fat packs, basic packs and repack products that I generally avoid unless I am seriously jonesing for some sports cards and I have no choice. There are a few reasons for this and they vary based on the product.
First, the repack is sometimes fun if you are in a nostalgic mood but they generally don’t provide any major surprises. A “repack” is when a company has purchased “out of production” card packs from various companies and they box up 5-10 and sell them. A repack can have a wide range of options and usually include all the major manufacturers like Topps, Panini and Upper Deck. But in most cases, the pack on the front of the box that you can see through the cellophane is the best in the box. While it may show a Topps Chrome pack, you will also probably find a couple of packs of Triple Play or Collectors Choice or Topps BIG Baseball. While all of these are collector items to different hobbyists, they are not what I am looking for.
As for the fat packs and the basic retail packs, I have been totally turned off by pack searching. Pack Searching is a very contentious term in the hobby world. There are many people who despise it greatly and think it is nothing short of criminal. Then there are others who support it and find nothing underhanded about the practice. Put me in the “despise” category as I think there is no place for it in the hobby. We have to find new measures to protect the integrity of the product; whether that be through the retailer or the card company itself. For the new collectors, pack searching is when you examine packs in such a way that you can determine if there are any “hits” inside. This includes bending, flexing, using fingernails to separate cards and in some rare cases, even opening the packs to examine the contents. This practice is used on single packs, opened retail boxes, fat packs and even hangars and blasters in some cases.
Pack searching can also be done with various small tools to determine the weight and width of packs. I won’t go into all the gory details because I’ve written about pack searching at length before and you can find that info HERE. The negative side of this practice is that most of the time the general public is accessing a stack of fat packs or an opened box that has already been searched. That’s because your local pack searcher also knows the general day and time when restocking happens. I picture a group of collectors sitting in a dark basement re-enacting a scene from Oceans 11 as they prepare their assault on Wal Mart. That’s probably dramatic but they do seem to go to a lot of trouble to disrupt the Retail system.
If you can find good Blaster’s that haven’t been tampered with, there are some fine rewards in Retail that can make the purchase worthwhile. I picked up a couple of Bowman Platinum boxes from Walmart.com and pulled two autographs. I have a friend who pulled a Manny Machado autograph from a Bowman Blaster a couple of years ago. The hits are there but the stated odds are longer and the possibility that a pack searcher reaches the product before you makes it even more perilous.
Companies are trying to combat this practice with different packaging, “dummy” cards and more sealed products like the Blaster and Hanger. And for now, that is where my focus is when I purchase Retail. I don’t buy single packs or fat packs anymore because I just can’t trust that the playing field is level. I stay away from retail online altogether unless I’m buying directly from the big box or from a reputable wholesaler. It’s just too risky. Again, if that’s your only option, I understand that and can’t knock anyone for wanting to get their hands on trading cards. Just be aware and use caution when you buy Retail. We all want that chance to pull something nice but when the packs are out in the open for the public to sort through, those chances shrink.
What are your thoughts on Retail products?