The Wal-Mart Side-Effect, part 1

Just got back from a trip up north to visit family. And ended up hitting a few different stores looking for clearance LEGO.  Happened upon a Wal-Mart, that still had Hobbit sets on sale.  Picked up a #79002 Attack of Wargs — I’ve been wanting the set, but didn’t like the price at $50, but I like it better at $35.  Back at the hotel, we opened up the sets to pack for our flight home, only to discovered the contents  was from a completely DIFFERENT LEGO set.  Needless to say I was angry.  Long story short, we managed to exchange the set at a different Wal-Mart, that still had the set for sale at full price.

This is the 2nd time this has happened to us, where we’ve purchased a LEGO set, opened it up only to discovered it’s been repacked with incorrect parts (baseball cards the first time), then had to return it.  And we’re not the only people to have this problem…  I suspect it’s more wide-spread.

I suspect the Collectible Minifigs and Star Wars collector’s market is a major contributor to this problem.  Talking with my cousin, he mentioned that at that the flea market he goes to on the weekend, he’s started to see more and more LEGO for sale… even a few booths dedicated to just selling LEGO — this didn’t surprise me, considering I saw the same effect at a small flea market in NC.  The greater problem I’m seeing is that AFOLs are getting caught between TLG’s new policies (mostly aimed at AFOLs since we represent a consumer face that LEGO Retail interfaces with) and the profiteers (those that have no interest in the LEGO hobby, whatsoever, but who are willing to do anything to make a quick buck off LEGO products; even if it means stealing it).

One of the allures of a LEGO conventions was buying LEGO at a discount, this helped AFOLs afford to build the awe inspiring creations.  The side-effect is that it attracted the soccer-moms and the profiteers.  With no discount this year at LEGO conventions in North America, I suspect sales have noticeably declined as a result.  Many of us, who save up money for these events to buy sets we’ve waited months to buy at a decent price, where our money would go further, I suspect Christmas this year will seem more like Grinchmas.

To many AFOLs, this isn’t new news, but it’s made many fans angry and wondering what to do.  And as fans, we’ve made ourselves out to be easy targets — our rabid fandom (tho awe inspiring when we display our creations at conventions), appear greedy, whiney, entitlement-fueled, and unprofessional in front of the LEGO decision makers.   From the fan perspective, many of the new policies seem short-sighted and greedy, and some policies impact us personally — TLG has no plans to have a AFOL display area at Festival of the Masters this year, so you won’t be seeing me there this year.

I wonder about the bigger picture… With profits up at the company, are the rate of product returns? How about product theft?  Is TLG just looking at BrickLink prices on aftermarket items (that policy changes are a by-product of corporate greed, in response to rabid fandom), or it is the Wal-Mart side-effect?

To be continued…