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Target and Walmart Have a Trading Card Problem, but the Story Has a Happy Ending

A skyrocketing secondary market for cards has created massive demand – and some wild altercations. Luckily, there’s a way forward.

The trading card market that started booming over a year ago isn’t slowing down. The surge in interest in the hobby continues to produce seriously positive effects, including the revival of brick-and-mortar card shops and the restoration of value in tons of cards that had been forgotten about for years.

Most importantly, we’ve seen a renewed passion for a pastime that brings joy to countless collectors.

The pandemic left us locked in our homes and desperate for entertainment, bringing many to revisit their personal collections. For others, the trading card renaissance offered a chance to conduct complex analyses of player stats, career projections, and population figures to build a portfolio that could provide a long-term return on investment. However, a more pernicious type of collector has also emerged: the kind who scoops up retail card stock at a low price and flips it immediately for a major profit.

And this aggressive pursuit of collectibles can lead to some questionable decision-making and even violence. Last week, Target announced that it would temporarily suspend in-person trading card sales after four people were arrested outside of a Wisconsin store following a fight.

It’s mind-blowing that the cards we once clipped to the spokes of our bicycles are now the subject of ugly altercations.

So… how did we get here, and how do we cool things down?

While plenty of those waiting in line outside of big box stores like Target and Walmart just want to get their hands on a box of trading cards they can keep for themselves and enjoy, resellers looking to turn a steep profit are becoming more common – especially with more and more technology platforms making such practices easier.

It’s arguable that those aiming simply to make a quick buck are bad for the hobby. But ultimately, the real issue is the relative few who let greed push them so far that the whole practice of collecting cards stops being fun at all.

And that’s how we fix this problem. By remembering that the hobby is all about the joy.

Before suspending trading card sales, Target had adjusted its rules in an effort to limit crowding earlier this month. The retail chain implemented a three-item maximum per sport at most of its locations, as well as a waiting list that a customer could sign up for at the door.

With demand continuing to rise, people began to arrive hours before opening time to get first dibs on the most valuable trading card products. As things escalated further, Walmart and Target had to pull items from the shelves entirely due to what has been referred to as “inappropriate customer behavior.”

That’s just not sustainable. And if this story sounds like one you’ve heard before, you probably have.

There is a close comparison between the hoarding and reselling of trading cards and the sneaker industry for sports fans. When the latest Jordan, LeBron, or KD shoe drops, it wasn’t uncommon for sneakerheads to camp out at their local Foot Locker in past years. These days, enthusiasts leverage insider connections or set up automated programs to get their hands on dozens or hundreds of pairs online as soon as they become available – or even before. As a result, we’ve seen the emergence of a wildly popular secondary market for sneakers that’s gotten an extra boost during the pandemic.

But no matter the industry, the song remains the same. Those willing to come to blows in a parking lot over basketball shoes or packs of wax aren’t likely to get any joy out of the hobby. Naturally, everyone wants to break a pack and find a 1-of-1 superfractor, but collecting needs to be about far more than simply investments and profits.

In the big picture, this story is going to have a happy ending. Reason No. 1: Trading cards bring people together from all different age groups, backgrounds, and geographies. The hobby is a community. And the population of collectors who got into cards for all the right reasons is growing.

Reason No. 2: With big box stores limiting their stock, consumers have more and more incentive to patronize their local brick-and-mortar card shops – and collectors with an entrepreneurial spirit have an opportunity to open up shops of their own knowing that the demand is absolutely there.

With this in mind, there’s lots of cause for optimism despite the challenges larger retailers currently face.

All told, the resurgent trading card industry is here to stay. And while a small correction in the market could quell a lot of the issues that we see within the hobby by weeding out those who are in it for the wrong reasons, there’s never been a better time to keep your local card shop on speed dial.

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