Olly Moss Star Wars poster sale causes a small twitter riot

Yesterday Phil gave us all a heads up about the cool Olly Moss Star Wars posters going on sale today at Mondo. Mondo had widely publicized that the posters would be put up for sale today, December 20th at a “random time” that was to be announced via twitter.

Well all hell in broke loose in the world of Star Wars nerd-dom when Mondo inexplicably made the poster sale live on their site before making the twitter announcement. This had the unfortunate consequence of allowing the edition of 400 posters to sell out in mere seconds before the tweet even went out. In fact the tweet never went out. Instead they tweeted this. Even more unfortunate was that a huge number of the buyers were scalpers. Within hours of the debacle, 75 of the three poster sets were for sale or already sold on ebay, for an average price of $750. Of course Mondo hadn’t yet printed out a single shipping label, let alone fulfilled any orders for said sets of posters. But oh wait, there’s more!

When I called the Mondo store in Texas when they opened this afternoon, the weary Mondo employee indicated that not only was Mondo attempting to cancel any orders that were associated with the ebay listings where posters were being flipped, he also disclosed that Mondo had accidentally oversold the limited edition. They were currently in the process of contacting customers to cancel the oversold orders. Just wait till that news hits the street.

So as far as I can tell, in addition to the overwhelming complaints about not tweeting BEFORE the posters went on sale and general grousing about not getting the posters, there were three types of gripes:

Complaint #1 is that the shopping cart/checkout wasn’t responsive and orders were aborted mid-transaction

Complaint #2 that bots had been set up and the majority of the posters had been swiped up by scalpers, only to have them immediately listed on ebay.

Complaint #3 is that the edition was much too small to meet demand.

Shopping cart/Checkout
As to the shopping cart issues, although Mondo had posted something earlier this month “about how things work”, this is just a particularly poor case of software design that ends up pissing off customers. There are many examples of purchasing limited quantity items that have a much better user experience that the MONDO shopping cart. The first one that comes to mind is concert tickets. TicketFly, Brownpaper Tickets, Ticketweb, and even Ticketmaster have their software set up so that you have x number of seconds or minutes to complete your transaction before your tickets are released. Why doesn’t an outfit like Mondo have a similar shopping cart experience? If they did, that would eliminate complaint #1.

Bots, Scalpers, & Ebay
While I clearly don’t have access to Mondo’s order history, I did watch as the number of poster sets listed on ebay went higher and higher. By last count, 75 three poster editions were listed on ebay or had already sold via buy-it-now. This accounts for %16 percent of the edition being listed on ebay within six hours of selling out.

The first sets were listed mere minutes after the edition sold out on Mondo. Even the scalpers didn’t have a good idea of what the demand would be. The first set went for $240 and a few more in the $300 range. By mid-afternoon they were selling right and left on ebay for upwards of $750. I was one of those who was willing to pay the outrageous ebay prices and purchased a set for $749 via buy-it-now. I’m glad I didn’t send payment immediately, as a few hours later I got word from the seller that Mondo had cancelled their original order.

I called the Mondo shop in Texas to get the scoop on the ebay listing, and found out that Mondo were indeed attempting to cancel all orders that had been listed via ebay. The clerk claimed that to make matters worse, their software had oversold the edition, so they were also going back and canceling some completed orders. Ouch. Yet another argument for getting some real shopping cart software.

How large should the edition be?
This question is a bit of a philosophical one, and in the end, to me it comes down to the artist’s wishes and to user experience. For something to be considered a true limited edition, and have artist’s moral rights applied, the edition must be less than 200, so that clearly was not the case in limiting this edition. The whole thing reminds me of the brouhaha that went on when Third Man Records listed items on ebay. Fans were incredibly pissed that Third Man would list some of the limited edition items themselves, thus taking all the profits for themselves. One of the folks from Third Man Records made some excellent points on a guest blog at the guardian.uk. I think that auctions are really the way to go, but unfortunately if a seller exploits the revenue potential of auctions to their fullest, they often have a PR nightmare on their hands as many customers will feel gouged, as was the case with Third Man. That’s not good user experience. A recent NYT article claimed that web merchants are finding even bad chatter is good for business. I don’t buy that model. That’s no way to build up a loyal customer base. And in the end, this morning’s Olly Moss sale did nothing to build loyalty and good will for Mondo.

A Better Way
So how would it have gone down if I were running things at Mondo? I’ve often thought about selling limited editions of my own live music photographs, so I’ve given this kind of issue a bit of thought over the past month. He’s my proposal: Split the sale up four ways. Have 20% of the edition placed at auction with any amount over a predetermined price going to charity. Place a whopping 60% up for sale on your website, selling on a first come first basis with a reasonable shopping cart that holds that coveted merchandise in your cart for a few minutes until the transaction can be completed. Next, don’t forget your most loyal customers, Allocate 10% to the company’s most loyal customers (defined however the company wishes.) Finally, let the little guy in on the deal. The last 10% should be raffled off ($5 tickets) so that those with very little loot might have some chance of getting gold.

Your thoughts appreciated.


  1. I can’t speak for Mondo, but I have been involved with developing various online shopping systems.

    1. “Complaint #1 is that the shopping cart/checkout wasn’t responsive and orders were aborted mid-transaction”

    You’re not putting the product into your cart, you’re putting in a token of your desire to purchase one of the limited quantity of prints. A thousand people have tokens in their carts, but there’s still only 400 prints available.

    So, you’ve made the common suggestion of “x number of seconds to complete the transaction”. Whereas the current system’s transaction takes place when you press the final ‘submit’ button with all your details, your suggestion brings it forward to the ‘add item to basket’ step.

    Now instead of everyone racing to make payment (a purchasing commitment), it’s a mad rush to simlpy add an item to the cart (non-committing). And since you haven’t had to supply addresses or payment details, you could have hundreds of staff (or perhaps several family members) at computers, trying to get some product into carts.

    Now those people who have successfully secured several carts with prints can then start organising which credit card and delivery address should be used for each order.

    Does this make it fairer for people? Not really – you’ve just increased your competition.

    You think if only they had this system in place, you could have checked out your product in a calm manner and been satisfied. But in reality, you probably wouldn’t have even got the product into your cart before they were all taken. Then what, refresh the page for the next hour hoping some people didn’t complete their purchase?

    The current system is certianly not less fair. You haven’t bought the product until you’ve paid for it. And even then, things can go unfortunate for some – say, for example, the release was accidently oversold.

    You’ve not lost anything tangible until you have ownership of the item, and that’s not when you’ve put a token in your cart.

    As all sales were completed, the website works and handles the load fine. Missing out wasn’t a result of the website being non-responsive – by then it was too late. Sure they could beef up their infrastructure to serve all those who missed out with “Sorry, sold out”… but really, is there any point?

    To which the response is usually something customer servicey along the lines of “they owe it to their customers”.

    But really, what is the point? The product has sold out. Those that got them are happy, those that didn’t are licking their wounds (and furiously Twittering insults). It’s as if millions of voices cried out and were suddenly furious.

    Most other online retailers sell common things, and if you don’t bend over backwards to keep customers happy, they’ll simply buy elsewhere. But these are exclusive and rare items – you either buy or buy not. There is no elsewhere.

    It seems Mondo aren’t driven by maximising financial gain, instead simply wanting some awesome exclusive art out there. The numbers are limited, the demand huge. 99% will be disapointed no matter how the system works. Limited supply and huge demand means a fierce race no matter what is done.

    2. “Complaint #2 that bots had been set up and the majority of the posters had been swiped up by scalpers”

    16% does not make a majority, and there’s no evidence scalpers are the plurality – even taking out Olly’s fifty).

    Some were flipped on eBay, either by the customer or through a dealer. The rest is unknown. I imagine many will be coveted and grace the walls of fine home theatres.

    The only real advantage scalpers could use is the number of individuals working for them, and perhaps a level of organisation (registered account before-hand, payment details at the ready).

    3. “Complaint #3 is that the edition was much too small to meet demand.”

    If everyone got one, they wouldn’t be rare and exclusive. Even upping the numbers a bit, people still miss out. If you are one of them, you still wouldn’t be happy.

    Your final suggestion of splitting the numbers doesn’t do anything to stop unhappiness. Even If only 40,000 people were interested a release of 400 prints, 99% aren’t going to be happy with the result.

  2. Hey Ben,

    Thanks for your reply. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but it makes me happy to have started a conversation.

    As a user experience designer, I’m going to disagree with you on the final point. You are right that splitting the numbers doesn’t change that oodles of people don’t get the print. However, a great deal of the unhappiness is due to people’s perception that the process wasn’t fair, or that they never had a chance to obtain a print. By making prints available through several systems, you give the customer hope that there is a possibility of obtaining the coveted item .

    The system I suggest makes prints available to those willing to pay a lot, and if the price goes through the ceiling the customers know part of the funds are going to a good cause. It makes prints available (to a few) with very little money via a raffel. It also helps to build a good customer relationship by making soem available to the best customers. And of course it still makes the majority available to those with quick fingers/great programming skills.

    Bottom line – If people feel they had a good fair shot to get the posters, they’ll still be disappointed, but not nearly as unhappy.

  3. Sorry for the almost double up in the post – the first half was a comment for Mondo’s blog, addressing someone else’s points. Accidently cut+pasted the whole thing here (though doesn’t look like Mondo approved my comment anway).

    I absolutely agree a better post-missed-out experience would reduce (not eliminate) some of the bitterness, but then, so does time.

    I bet most vowing never again to buy from Mondo will quickly backflip when something alluring comes up. And if they miss out, they’ll weep and wail and repeat the pattern.

    There’s certainly room for improvement in their system, but with their current model they aren’t losing sales (of the limited release posters – apparel and giftcards, perhaps.)

    I see the situation much like television show Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi – great product overcoming any shortfall in service.

    There’s certainly nothing wrong with your model, but it is quite a lot of work to organise and fulfill. Are you still limiting sales to one per person/address for the whole release, or can a VIP customer additionally bid in the auction and participate in the raffle? What if you have more VIPs than allocated prints, and ofcourse they all want one? How do you choose which ones miss out?

    If you wanted to be really fair, why not just have a lottery? One entry per customer. Each name drawn is given an offer to purchase. Any offers not taken up in time are void and round two names are drawn. Certainly keep some for an auction, with a portion of the proceeds going to a good cause is a good idea.

  4. So I was eagerly waiting for the release of the Captain America posters and guess what I missed the boat by minutes. Now clearly that was dissappointing but what really pisses me off is that even before the posters are in peoples hands they are being pimped on ebay …



    What is clear is that its the same culprits time after time after time … I guess not much has changed at Mondo since they sold the Star Wars posters.

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