I often get questions about pre-selling sets. I do have some guidelines that I follow, but different things work for different people. Pre-selling can be a good way to get product moving and to build up customers once a product is released. I hope to share some of my ideas and techniques on sports card pre-sells. These are simply guidelines that have helped me. I do not always follow them for every product as each product is different. Sometimes the market changes and that can lead to a change in plans. I also think this pertains to those opening several cases as opposed to someone opening a few boxes or even a couple of cases. I hope if nothing else, it gets ideas and information flowing.
Idea 1: Each Product is Different, Treat Them as Such
Pre-sells can be good for both the buyer and the seller. Yet we see this often in the hobby: a product may pre-sell well and then drop in value. It can also go the other way. Sets are typically all that are pre-sold when it comes to sports cards, meaning you won't find many singles listed in advance. Typical auctions that are pre-listed include base sets, master sets (base sets with short prints and sometimes inserts), and team sets. At times you will see player lots in products such as the Bowman lines.
From my experience with Topps baseball products and eBay research, I believe base Topps is the best pre-sold set. There are both large quantities and huge demand. For most collectors, it is not only an affordable set, but one of the more comprehensive and highly sought after sets each year. When I say "best pre-sold set," I am not referring to dollar amounts, but rather demand and sets searched for on eBay and other sites.
If you have an eBay store, the site offers an excellent research tool that shows you data about eBay searches. It will tell you every search made and the keywords used. This is a very useful tool when deciding what to put in an auction title, although now with 80 characters it has become easier to have effective titles. It is also useful to see why items are not selling in terms of pre-sales.
I hear, at times, that a certain product is not pre-selling well. I always have to stop and ask why. For one, there are many other live products out there that buyers are more focused on at that time? They may not be thinking about something coming out weeks later.
Plus, many collectors do not begin searching for a product until close to the live date or after they see it in their hobby stores or on their Twitter feed. Some want to see what they are buying and know the final checklists. Others may have bought a few packs or a box and later decide to go buy a set or complete one. Whatever the reasons, there will be more searches once a product is live.
Using eBay search data, one can also learn which products get searched the earliest and how often. Three weeks before base Topps came out, nearly 60% of my store's searches were for 2012 Topps in some fashion of set or pre-sell. I could see exactly how things were being searched and how often. Based on earlier years, no other product has been searched that much, especially when other releases are already out. Base Topps was the first release of the year so folks were looking, but will they be looking for other sets so far in advance? Not as much. And as other products begin rolling out and so closely together, you will see far less searches for many products prior to live date.
New product brands typically do not pre-sell well. I was one of the few case breakers to bust 2011 Topps Gypsy Queen last year. Looking back on my data and data from Terapeak, I can see very few searches and early sells for the product. People didn't know what it was and did not have opinions formed on it. Was this going to be another 2010 National Chicle or 2010 Topps T-206? Early pre-sells saw base sets struggle to move at $25 plus shipping. But once it was released, base sets climbed to $35-$45 with some even passing the $50 mark.
It was a good thing there were not many pre-sells, as the set size changed. It came out 50 cards smaller than advertised. This can happen with new products. Also, the odds on any short prints were unknown so sells of master sets basically did not exist until the set was live.
I would say base Topps, Topps Heritage, Topps Chrome and Bowman are all good pre-sells because they have been around for years and most collectors look for them. The newer the product or the more unknowns there are, then the less likely it is a good idea to sell in advance. As a collector, it might not be the wisest move to buy ahead of time on these products either.
Idea 2: Team and Prospect Lots
Regarding team sets and prospect lots, I have done better once a product has been out for a day or two. With team sets, sure the hot teams like the Yankees will always do well, but many collectors want to know how many cards and what players are included in the team sets. We don't always know that until after release date.
Team sets can see a good spike and remain steady for weeks once a product releases, especially Topps Series 1 as spring training arrives. I had pre-sold some Yankees master team sets for $20-$30 with the base cards and inserts. Once people saw it live and found out the Yankees had 66 of the 595 cards and many were inserts of guys like Mantle, the sets went as high as $50 after release!
I have seen and experienced the same with Bowman prospect lots. The pre-listed lots did not perform as well as the live lots, perhaps because there were more buyers looking once it was live. Of course, there are several factors involved. Ultimately, that is the big reason--the more people looking the better. With player lots, you have collectors that may want multiple lots so they will be looking and bidding often and for possibly weeks after release, depending on the prospects offered.
Idea 3: When to List
For years, I have always liked to list 10-14 days before a product's release date. This gives me flexibility in case the release date is pushed back. It also gives me time to finish up on previous releases so they don't all run together any more than they have to. It allows me to keep better records and keep up with the shipping easier. It also acts as a signal to potential customers that I will have the product. I used to use it more as an advertisement rather than to sell.
Recently, I have begun listing base Topps a month in advance because of it's popularity and due to the fact that I sell anywhere from 300-425 sets with my larger breaks (no other product comes close to that volume of sets). On other products, I try to stay within two or three weeks of release if it is a returning product. I do not like to go out more than 30 days because products can be delayed, it clutters up my 'to ship' list and can cause issues with buyers. Many buyers don't read descriptions, and so I receive emails asking where their cards are. It can also lead to poor feedback, which can hurt in other ways.
In a perfect world, I guess there would not be pre-sells, at least on eBay. In fact, eBay has a 30-day pre-sell and handling policy that is supposed to prevent any presales too far in advance. eBay has an area on the site to report violations.
Idea 4: How to List
There are no right or wrong ways to any of this, but there are some things that I have learned along the way. The technique I like to use is simple. I use one fixed-priced listing with a ten-set quantity for 30 days on base Topps since I sell it earliest. I use ten-day listings on most others since I typically do not put them up as early. I do this first to advertise that I will have the product.
I list my fixed-priced listings higher than auctions because the final value fees are more. I also know I will be hit with lower than desired offers. I then like to list two auctions for the set, one as a three-day and one as a seven-day. If one sells then I will list another, so it's a cycle until the week of release. If they don't sell, I relist once a little lower because if it sells the second time you get the listing fee back.
The reason I do not like to list set after set is because it over supplies the demand at that point. Remember, there may be huge demand for the set, but not as huge as it will be closer to release week. All I end up doing is competing with myself along with everyone else. If I list ten sets while the searches are low, and there are 40 other sets listed by other sellers, it is a buyer's dream. So rather than maybe getting between two and five bids on one set, you may get only one bid total on multiple sets. Even worse, you might not get any bids since there are too many listed at one time.
I see this far too often and, looking back, it has cost many people. It's not that easy to enforce, but eBay has policies against duplicate listings. In the fixed-price arena, they will end the item if it is a duplicate no matter what. For auctions, it is different. eBay only ends the items or suspends the seller if their sell rate is below the standards they set. This usually does not impact many sellers but it is a little known eBay listing policy. When too many of the same listing is out there it can only damage the market.
This is why I caution sellers on free listing days. Would you rather pay $1 to list a set at a $49.99 start bid and sell the one or two you list, or list ten sets for free at $49.99 and maybe not sell them all and have to lower your prices when relisting. Or maybe they do all sell, but rather than getting multiple bids on each set, you only get the one. This may be a bit hard to explain but I could show a few examples. I do not want to single anyone out just want to show as a learning tool.
This shows one seller using free listings to list the same item over and over to end around the same time and not have success, while other sets that same night sold for $18-$20 by other sellers. This shows another example with team sets.
Idea 5: Some Pre-Sell Warnings
- Be prepared if the release date changes and notify buyers.
- Set sizes and checklists can change. Again, you might want to notify buyers.
- Team sets can actually sell much better once the product is live as the final checklist and card tallies are known.
- Be ready to answer questions about when product releases, when you will ship, and where items are once they've entered the postal system.
- You may receive complaints from someone who pre-bought a set for, say, $30 and now you and others are selling for $20 (with Heritage this could be $400 and now $300).
- Pre-selling can put a seller behind on shipping quite a bit. The first few days you must rip, scan, and list. There has to be time to sort and ship sets. If you pre-sold many sets then make sure the buyers are aware of any delays as it can take a week or more to get caught up.
- Are you pre-lising because you need the money to buy the product? If so, this might not be the way to go. It could lead to future trouble.
There is no exact way to approach presales, only tips based on experience and past results. Each release is different and the market can, and does, change. Personally, in many ways, I wish we did not have set presales just because of the changes that come and time it can take. But I understand why we have them and they are a big part of business. As long as we are aware of potential detours and communicate openly with buyers, there should not be any problems.
Pre-sells are a great way to get business moving and to begin to deplete some of the inventory headed your way, not to mention advertise what you have coming. I see the benefits of pre-selling directly to customers more so than on eBay, but my business has changed over the years and has led me this way. There is nothing wrong with moving all or most of your sets prior to release if you feel you are getting a price you can work with and you give yourself plenty of time to make the sets and get them out. If you only move a small portion, or none, of your sets beforehand that is okay too. Some cases, like Topps Heritage, matter less as prices tend to find a steadier level than many other sets. Some prices can even increase.
No matter what you do, how you do it, how much you open, or when you sell it, have fun and enjoy the cards. Oh, and keep some for yourself!
Set-Specific Pre-Sale Tips:
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Related Topics: How To: Boxes / Cases