As game store owners, we process trade-ins daily. Pricing a handful of valuable cards is typically fast and straightforward, but what do you do when a customer brings in a massive collection of cards?
When handled well, buying large collections can give you a fast bump in revenue and available inventory. On the other hand, a poorly handled collection buy could leave you with piles of worthless or unsellable inventory and labor costs that you may not be able to recoup.
Here are some ideas and suggestions that can make the process of pricing large collections easier and may offer other benefits to your business.
Standardize Your Pricing Model
Regardless of how large or small your operation is, standardizing your pricing practices for trade-ins is one of the most important things you can do. When you establish a set of standard pricing guidelines, even if you do not share the exact process with your customers, it creates a perception of fairness. If your customers feel like they are getting a fair deal, they will keep coming back.
Early in our growth process, we started noticing some unusual trends in our daily reports - when specific employees were on shift, trade-in volume would spike. We had customers who would come in the store with a trade-in, and if they did not see one of those employees behind the counter, they would leave and come back later. Customers were price-shopping our employees and coming back when they felt like they would get a better deal. As our business expanded to multiple retail outlets, it became critical to ensure the customer experience during trade-ins was consistent throughout the company, regardless of employee or location. Shortly after our second site opened, we had a customer bring in a collection to be priced. After hearing our offer, he took it to our second site to see if the price would be different. When the price our second store offered him was almost the same amount (within about $5 on a $2,000 offer), he left glowing feedback on social media citing our ”consistent and fair” trade-in practices.
As in our case, establishing standardized trade-in policies and practices in place can result in a boost to your store(s)’ reputation, which can bring you more foot traffic and more trade-ins. Even as a small operation, the more you can project an image of fairness and consistency, the easier it will be to grow a loyal customer base who will keep bringing you more cards to add to your inventory.
Once you decide on your pricing policies, train all your employees, and monitor them to ensure that they are consistently implemented.
Pricing Large Collections vs. Singles
Pricing a large collection is an entirely different process than processing a handful of singles. When creating an offer for 10,000+ cards, individually pricing each card would take an immense amount of time. It is much better to find a way to efficiently price cards in batches when working with large quantities.
To that end, one efficient way to price collections is to use a tiered pricing model instead of trying to price each card individually.
An example of a tiered pricing model might look like this. (DISCLAIMER: These prices are for illustration only - you would need to evaluate what would be the best tiers and pricing for your location.)
- Offer $2 per 1,000 (or full 1k count box) for cards worth less than $1
- Offer $0.75 each for cards worth between $1 and $3
- Offer $2 each for cards worth between $3 and $5
- Offer $5 each for cards worth between $5 and $10
- For cards worth more than $10, price individually as singles
While these numbers only serve as examples, it shows how a tiered-pricing model can work for collections. Rather than tracking each card’s value, the employee processing the collection only sorts cards into a few piles and then counts the cards in each pile. This also reduces the time spent on price-checking cards. It does not matter whether that foil Abbot of Keral Keep is worth $4.50 or $3.75 – you just know it goes in the $3 to $5 pile. Tiered pricing can allow a collection to be processed substantially faster than pricing individual cards.
Pricing tiers may mean that you offer slightly less per card for large collections than you would for individual singles, but that offsets the increased labor costs for processing the collection.
Cards You Should Not Accept
There are a few categories of cards that we do not accept, even as part of large collection buys. You may also want to consider if there are cards you would automatically reject.
- Excessively damaged cards: Cards that have been ripped in half, defaced, or are otherwise unusable.
- Low-value non-english cards: Below a certain threshold, non-english language cards can be exceedingly difficult to resell. Consider whether you want to have your inventory clogged with thousands of copies of Japanese cards whose English versions sell for pennies. Be even more cautious with non-english language cards for games other than Magic – you cannot even sell them on TCGplayer without using photograph listings, which is an even bigger time-sink for penny cards. The labor costs may outweigh any potential profits here.
- Cards with suspicious provenance: inevitably, a customer will eventually ask you to buy a collection, and the whole deal just feels not-quite-right. In our area, a common story we hear in these cases is along the lines of “I clean houses for a living, and when I was cleaning out a house for my client, I found all this. They said they didn’t want it anymore and gave it to me.” If you suspect that all or part of a collection may be stolen, it is highly advisable to refuse the transaction.
Apart from cards of suspicious provenance (where you should check to ensure you are following state/local law), I would advise that you inform your customer of any rejected cards. In some cases, a customer may ask you to return rejects; in other cases, the customer may just tell you to throw them in the trash. In either case, you should establish a clear understanding with the customer that you are not offering any additional amount for those cards.
Pricing Per Product “Bounties” and Store Credit Premiums
Should you treat Pokémon, Magic, and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards the same? What about some of the lesser-known or newer CCGs? That can largely depend on your customer base and your market area.
Suppose you have thriving communities for multiple games, with customers continually bringing in singles and buying other singles from you. In that case, you might want to have a simpler standardized trade-in model, with consistent pricing across the board.
Although it seems somewhat counterintuitive, you might want to consider offering (and advertising) a higher trade-in price for collections from less-traded card games to attract new customers.
When we started trying to expand our presence with Yu-Gi-Oh!, one of our steps was to offer a trade-in bonus for Yu-Gi-Oh! cards. The boosted trade-in price served a few useful purposes. First, it brought more Yu-Gi-Oh! players into our stores. Second, it helped us rapidly expand our available inventory to entice those players to stay. Third, it allowed us to start building a reputation with the local Yu-Gi-Oh! community. By offering increased trade-in value for collections for a specific game, we substantially increased our customer base and expanded into an entirely new market.
Another option you might consider is to offer more trade-in credit than cash for collections. Most shops provide a store credit bonus when trading in singles, but should you extend this to large collections as well?
The most significant advantages of offering a store credit bonus are consistency and cash flow. If you offer store credit for smaller trade-ins, then offering it for larger ones keeps your pricing policy simpler and more consistent, which benefits both you and your customers. Encouraging issuing store credit also protects your cash flow. Paying out store credit means you get to keep the actual cash in your hands for longer, allowing you more opportunities to use it for growth.
By giving store credit, you also keep customers within your ecosystem. Someone who cashes out their collection for store credit still has to shop with you at least one more time. This provides you with an opportunity to convert them to another type of customer (e.g., the customer may not be interested in Magic anymore, but you can convince them to buy some board games and start coming to your board game nights).
Not offering a store credit premium for large collections has some benefit, primarily cost control. If you do not provide bonus store credit on collections, you make slightly more profit than you would from buying singles. Doing this can offset the higher labor cost for processing collections. However, considering the benefits of offering a store credit bonus, it is probably better to offer the premium on collections if you already offer it for singles.
Consider Sleeving and Sorting Charges
Processing a collection can take substantial labor. You cannot accurately grade and process the cards until they have been de-sleeved, and often a collection will contain large amounts of cards that are only fit for your bulk bins. In many cases, our customers will bring in collections in two parts, a binder or box that is the “good stuff,” and then a much larger box that is mostly bulk or low-value cards. When customers bring in a collection in complete disarray, it can take significant effort just to sort the collection before even beginning the pricing process. We once had someone bring in a giant Rubbermaid tub full of loose cards – it took us the better part of a day just to sort through it.
It is worth considering charging a discretionary adjustment (perhaps reducing a cash offer by 5%) as a sorting/de-sleeving fee for especially disorganized, messy, or complex collections. Asking your customers to have their collections ready to process before they bring them in can save you a significant amount of labor. For customers who do not want to take the time, the service charge can help compensate you for the extra effort needed to process those collections. Any such policy should be clearly written and made known to customers to avoid customer complaints of favoritism or inconsistency.
You might find customers willing to sell you a collection but who are not willing to travel out to your store. If you (or an employee) can put in the mileage, traveling out to pick up a collection can potentially be a way for you to broaden your store’s reach and appeal.
With multiple locations, this is not a service that we offer very frequently anymore, but it is worth considering based on your circumstances. When we provided courier service, we asked customers to pay an up-front courier fee. Our fee used the IRS Standard Mileage Rate (57.5 cents in 2020). If you offer a paid courier service, be sure to account for your mileage to the customer and back to your store.
We would send the customer an invoice via PayPal or another payment processor and requested payment before sending a courier out to pick up the collection. If the customer accepted our offer and sold the collection to us, we refunded the courier fee. This made it more feasible for us to offer the courier service and reduced the number of times people would use it for ”price shopping.”
You might also have an occasion where multiple customers in an area all want to sell their collections simultaneously (e.g., their whole playgroup is quitting the game and wants to cash out). In these circumstances, if we could coordinate several pickups, we would waive the courier fee entirely. It may be tempting to waive a courier fee for other reasons, such as a large/valuable collection. I would advise being cautious about doing so. The more often you make exceptions to a policy, the more often a customer will try to argue that their case warrants an exception. You must apply any policies such as service fees as consistently as possible.
Additional Opportunity - Appraisals
Collections can sometimes be worth mind-boggling amounts of money, and serious players often want to do everything they can to protect their cardboard treasures. Some players with highly valuable collections will seek to insure their collection, either through their homeowner or renter’s insurance or via a separate insurance policy. Usually, an insurance company will request a formal appraisal of the collection to determine its value. If you already have the processes in place to evaluate collections, offering a paid appraisal service – perhaps charging $15 to $20 per 1,000 cards – can be an easy way to use your established workflow and your expertise to offer a service that sets your store apart. You could even consider refunding the appraisal fee if the customer decides to sell you the collection.
Accepting trade-ins of large collections allows your store to acquire large quantities of valuable cards quickly, but it offers some unique challenges as well.
Ensuring that your policies for pricing collections are uniformly and consistently applied is one of the most important things you can do to manage the customer experience and ensure customer satisfaction. A reputation for being fair and consistent with your pricing process will ensure that customers continue to bring their valuable collections to you.
The best trade-in is a transaction where both you and the customer leave feeling that the trade was a good deal. Providing a positive customer experience can ensure that your game store’s reputation continues to spread, bringing you even more customers in the future.