Sunday, 21 April 2013

Supermarket sweeping


If you want a pint of milk, then (unless you live on a dairy farm), you go and buy a pint of milk.  Most of us have any number of supermarkets, convenience stores, all-night petrol stations etc nearby, so if the only thing between you and a nice cup of tea (1) is a squirt of cow juice, then you nip out to the nearest one and buy a pint.  Most of the time we wouldn’t trawl round each of the outlets available to us, doing price comparisons. (2)

But when it comes to the good old plastic brick, that’s a whole different matter.

There are a couple of reasons for this : price and availability.

Firstly, price.  It’s been a long time since the manufacturer set the price of goods.  That’s what one of the R’s in RRP stands for.

Recommended. (3)

And so the price of any given set can vary wildly from place to place, depending on whether there’s a sale on, whether there’s a money-off voucher available, maybe there’s a ‘buy one get one free deal going on’.  

There’s a generally held truth within the Lego community : 

‘You never pay full price for anything.’  

There’s always some way to get a bargain.

Secondly, availability.  For the most part, if a set is still in production, then you can buy it from somewhere (4).  But an interesting situation arises when a set goes EOL.  Eventually the only place you’ll find EOL sets is ebay, private resellers, maybe if you’re lucky, a charity shop.
But in the few months after a set is withdrawn, it’s possible to still find stock on the shelves.

Now by this time, the Lego community has usually made a decision on whether a set is a good investment or not.

All of this - sales, offers, last chances to get stock before they’re gone - leads to Supermarket sweeping. (5)  People will regularly go and check all the Lego stockists in their area, the Tesco’s, the Toys R Us, the department stores and so on, looking for bargains.  And if they find a bargain, they’ll usually go online and let the rest of their fellow collectors know the good news.  But often not until after they’ve made it through the checkout with their own haul! (6)

The forum on Brickset.com is the one I’m most familiar with, and each retailer has it’s own dedicated thread, where bargains are updated on a daily, sometimes even hourly basis.  This can lead to frustration.  A while back, Tesco’s, for reasons best known to themselves, dumped a large quantity of Lego on the shelves at crazy prices.  There was a Lego Technic Helicopter (9396) that I was after at the time, which had an RRP of £69.99, and Tesco’s were selling them for £30.00!!!

But that wasn’t strictly true.  Some Tesco’s were selling it at £30.00, and from what I could tell, none of the participating stores were anywhere near me, in North London.  So I watched the thread, seeing people rubbing their hands with glee (at least I assume that’s what they were doing - it’s a web forum, not CCTV), as they reported coming home with two, three… ten of these helicopters at bargain prices.  And not long afterwards, I’d see them appearing on ebay for around £45.  Ok, so in comparison to £69.99, £45.00 (plus the obligatory p&p) was still a bargain, but knowing that someone had managed to pick it up for £30.00 and was then immediately making a 50% markup stuck in my throat and I didn’t buy any. (7)

To be fair though, when something like this happens, Brickset is pretty good at helping out fellow forum members. Time and again, you read a ‘thank you’ from one member to another, for picking up a set at a bargain price, and then posting it on - often to someone they’ve never met - at cost plus postage.

The kindness of strangers endures.

Now while I was working my way through the current range of Technic, picking up bargains where I could, I was also checking out the recently deceased, as it were, and looking at the sets that had gone out of production lately.  Some I wasn’t fussed about, but there were a couple that really caught my eye.  Foremost among these was the 8109 Flatbed Truck.  Some internet trawling revealed what was to become an all too familiar story.  If I’d bought it when it was on sale, then I could have had it for an RRP of £71.99, and as we have seen, possibly even a little cheaper than that.

But now?  Well, there’s some kindly soul on Amazon who’ll sell me a ‘new-in-sealed-box’ set for… £129.99.  Just  a modest £58.00 markup on a £72.00 set.

And Ebay?  Well…  At the time I was looking, if I wanted a NISB one, then I was looking at anything between £119 and £160, none of which I was prepared to pay. (8)



The Lego Technic 8109 Flatbed Truck - available at outrageous prices.

(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)



But I had, when I could, started doing a bit of Supermarket sweeping of my own.  Trouble is, I could only really do it when I was out by myself.  If Mrs Boo and I were out shopping or somesuch, and I mentioned that I just wanted to stop off in a toyshop or what have you, at best I’d get the ‘roll-of-the-eyes / not again’ look, and at worst I’d get the ‘that’s another couple of bricks in our new house’ talk.

So discretion was (is…?) the order of the day.

All of which led me to being in our local Toys R Us über-barn.  I think it was fair to say that when it comes to pricing, then ‘competitive’ wasn’t really in TRU’s vocabulary, but they did have a tendency to carry a fair bit of stock, and their pricing strategy did mean that they didn’t sell out as fast as some of the more keenly priced places.  I’d had a quick skim once or twice before, under the watchful eye of my dear wife, and noticed that they did have a few of the smaller EOL sets, but had never had a chance to look properly.

So finding myself in the Technic section… unguarded (me, not the Technic), I had a good rummage around.

And Lo!  What do I find tucked away at the back, behind some rather knackered looking other sets?  A pristine 8109 Flatbed Truck!  At the RRP of £71.99!

Just call me Indiana Jones…

Having recently blown quite a lot of money at the Grand Opening event, when the Demon appeared on one shoulder, and the Angel on the other, both with compelling reasons why I should / shouldn’t just buy the truck there and then, I’m afraid that good won out, and I carefully stashed the Truck as far back on the shelf as I could, behind plenty of other boxes. 

What I needed now, was justification!

A week later, and there it was.  I’d been having some trouble with one of my teeth for some months.  It had been drilled, root canalled and crowned over the past few years, but for the last three months or more, it had been giving me considerable grief, and in the expert opinion of the dentist, there was nothing for it but to take the offending tooth out.  (Which opened up the way for a very expensive implant to replace it, but I’m sure that was far from his mind.) (9)

Now because my diet has been less than ideal - for the last 30 years - I am rather better acquainted with dental procedures than I’d like, and so this wouldn’t be the first time that I’d had a tooth removed.  It’s not pleasant by any means - let’s face it, basically, someone’s taking a pair of fancy pliers and pulling a piece of your head out - but having had it done a couple of times previously, I knew what to expect.

My wife, on the other hand, who’s oral hygiene is clearly superior to mine, has only ever had to have had one extraction, and that was fairly recently.  And it came as a bit of a shock to her.

Hence I could count on a lot of sympathy in a few days time, when I came back, suffering and in pain, from the brutal treatment at the hands of the mean old dentist.

You’d have to be pretty heartless to get cross with someone when they’ve just had a tooth out.

I have to go past Toys R Us to get to the dentist.

Just sayin’…


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(1)  I say nice cup of tea.  In truth I can’t stand the stuff.  Insipid brown liquid that tastes of nothing.  
Still - plenty of other people seem to like it.

(2)  This is just for illustrative purposes.  Sadly, for far too many people, hunting down the cheapest pint of milk is something they do have to do to balance the budget - I don’t mean to offend anyone.

(3) I’m guessing it’s the first one?  Recommended Retail Price?  Maybe it’s Roughly Recommended Price.  Or Really Ridiculous Price.  Maybe that last one’s just for petrol…

(4) The obvious place that should be able to guarantee availability is Lego themselves, either via their bricks and mortar stores, or Lego online.  However, this is likely to contravene the golden rule, as 95% of the time, when you buy from Lego, you pay full price.

(5) The community probably has a proper term for this, but I’m not sure what it is, so I’m just going to call it Supermarket sweeping.

(6) Understandably.

(7) As it ended up, some time later John Lewis started matching a competitors price, the Helicopter came down to under £55.00, we get discount on top of that, and Mrs Boo bought it for me for my birthday.  You don’t get much better than 100% discount!

(8) As I write this, some weeks on, I’ve just trawled Ebay again, out of interest.  There are six new sets available - those with a Buy It Now price are all £119 and above, but there are two being auctioned.  One’s currently at just over £60.00, while the other still has a week to run, but it’s at the princely sum of £2.19!  Might keep an eye on that one.  You never know!

(9)  I’ve got a great dentist actually.  If something doesn’t need doing, then he won’t hassle you about it, unlike some that I’ve had in the past.

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