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.
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.