It is a question that plagues many collectors more than any other. How on earth do you hit online sports card retail drops online nowadays?
For years now, sports card purchasing has been moving online. However, it mainly was reselling and hobby stuff that collectors bought online. Most of us preferred to get our retail in, you know, retail stores.
However, it has become increasingly difficult to find product in brick and mortar stores. By the way, have you ever noticed we call it product like drug addicts do in the movies? Just saying.
Target exacerbated the problem with its (understandable but annoying) decision to stop selling MLB, NFL, and NBA cards at stores. But we don’t want to give up on retail just yet. After all, retail is cheaper than its hobby counterparts, and some releases provide great value.
We have the complete guide on how to get your online retail even in these troubled times.
Kind of like getting retail out in the real world; you have to be quick to get your online fix. Therefore, anything that will save you time on checkout is excellent.
One of the most important tips is to scope out the website ahead of the drop. Think of it as a robbery. Before you hold up the bank, you need to know the lay of the land, right?
Same thing with the website. How do you find retail products? What is the checkout process? What are the buying limits?
You need to have the answers to these questions before the drop. Otherwise, your product will disappear before you know what hit you. Remember, the bigger the release, the quicker you need to be.
How do you save time? There are several ways.
I had my Bowman hobby box in the checkout. While I was filling in my credit card details, Topps.com ran out of stock.
Maybe you have been there. Perhaps you are smarter than me. I don’t know. Either way, be smart. Here are your tips for saving time at checkout.
Several services allow for quick checkout without entering your details through Apple Pay, PayPal, or Amazon Payments. You can also use Chrome or a password manager like LastPass to automatically fill out your information.
In all scenarios you will want to store your credit card details and address on the website before your product drops.
To make purchases on most retail selling sites, you need to have an account. Have them set up in advance. Also, remember to be LOGGED in before the drop.
If you are a serious retail-oriented collector, it is good to have accounts on all the essential sites. (Some people have multiple accounts on each, but that’s a different story).
Which sites? Glad you asked. Here is a list:
But it isn’t enough to just have an account. You have to LOG IN before the drop starts. The time logging in could make the difference between scoring big and getting jack.
The best way to make sure you get a shot at a drop is to have the link in advance. However, keep in mind that it isn’t always possible to get it. Sometimes, the link isn’t there until the product drops.
Regardless, do your due diligence and see if the link is there. If you can’t find the specific link, it is best to stay on the general search for sports cards on the relevant site.
Every site has its quirks on finding links. We will give a bit of guidance on getting the link and obtaining retail cards on specific sites.
When trying to get product from the big retailers, keep in mind that your best shot is almost always the first stock. Re-stocks are usually smaller and harder to catch.
Target allows you to sign up for in-stock notices. If you find the link for the product you want, it may have a link reading ‘notify me when its back.’ When the item is back, you should receive a notice on your email or a push notification if you are using their app.
However, signing up guarantees nothing. Often by the time you get it, the most desirable items are gone. Still, it can’t hurt.
You can sign up for in-stock notices at Target. Often though, items are sold out by the time you get a notification.
At Target, you will want to watch for new URLs as they appear on this link. Make sure to sort them by latest release and include ‘out of stock’ in your search. Meanwhile, at Walmart, you will want to look here.
Both Target and Walmart also sell sports cards through third-party sellers. Walmart features sellers such as Toynk Toys LLC more prominently, but Target has them too.
So make sure you aren’t ordering from them by accident. Both retail giants sometimes make the third-party seller the default dispenser at above retail prices. You can sometimes get good deals from these companies, but make sure you know what you are getting.
Fanatics carries both standards Panini and Topps stuff as well as some exclusives. We have got to give them some props. The exclusives on that site tend to be top-notch. One of the most popular is the 2019-2020 Optic Silver Wave Complete Set. However, they also had some great Prizm exclusives as well.
Make sure you have the URL for a Fanatics drop. It is sometimes difficult to navigate the site without them.
One great way to work with Fanatics is to call and speak to a representative. If you leave your number with the company, they will alert you when they get the products you want. Keep in mind that the reps do not always get the products at their disposal, but you will get a call when they do. Developing a good personal relationship with one of their reps is a great way to get a leg up over the competition.
To speak to one:
Topps makes it a bit difficult to find the new releases. However, the best way to find their releases is to go directly to the boxes and packs URL.
Another great way to get first dibs on new Topps releases is by joining the Topps 582 Montgomery Club. Membership provides access to a pre-sale window for some Topps Exclusives, including Sapphire and Ginter X.
Panini has different release practices from Topps and the other sites. While some of their releases have an exact price, others use the Dutch auction system.
A traditional Dutch auction involves taking all the opening bids at once and setting the opening price accordingly. The Panini version is a bit different. They put an opening price for the product when it drops, and then it goes down after a set amount of time (often 2 or 10 minutes).
The drop continues until they sell out the item. The mechanism puts pressure on the buyers to bid high before the products run out and translates into good profits for Panini.
Generally speaking, buying on Panini and Topps should provide you with a better price than a third-party seller. However, that is not the case. The companies know there is high demand and sometimes release products at high price points, making them questionable investments.
Discord is a haven of real-time information for sports card collectors and investors. You can get plenty of info from free hobby channels if you can put up with the constant chatter that takes place there.
However, if you are willing to shell out some dough, there are focused professional services designed to alert you on Discord as soon as products drop.
Some free channels with a lot of card information, including drops, are:
Some of the premium services specializing in re-stock alerts include:
One great advantage of these professional services is that they help you fine-tune your product finding technique. By following their advice and prompts, you will develop your feel for when and where the products drop.
Sports Card Twitter is a great place to get information on drops and make friends in the community. The first thing you need to know is that quite a bit of the world of card Twitter revolves around the @CardPurchaser account. I have hit some great drops just by following that account.
Some other handy accounts in this regard include:
Target also provides Twitter re-stock notifications on this account.
Of course, if you want to follow a REALLY good Twitter account, you should check out our account at Cardlines. Our head editor provides excellent information on drops in real-time.
We also have a handy series on monthly releases. It will help you know when to expect product drops.
There are various services you can use that monitor website changes. You can set them to follow changes on specific URLs.
Usually, signing up for these services requires three steps:
While these services all work, you may have to use trial and error to see which updates you quickly enough to nab some popular product. Here are some good options for these services:
And specifically for baseball cards:
None of the services we linked to are bots. However, some of the services mentioned may advise you on the use of bots.
You will often hear that bots are buying up all the retail stock. The fear and paranoia are a bit overblown, but they are indeed a problem.
Using bots is not easy. You have to program them, and they are only as good as the programmer. Some software is just not that great; others become outdated when retailers figure them out. Bot operators also have to open up multiple accounts and use a wide variety of payment methods.
It is expensive to get a good bot, and there are no guarantees that they will get the product you want. Some people have gone months and spent thousands of dollars to archive mediocre results.
This leads to what collectors call “bot rage.”
However, when bots figure out how to overcome the defenses of the major retailers, they can feast and buy up a tremendous amount of product. In the last few months, we have seen some pretty sophisticated bots take their choice of pickings.
Still, the returns from retail are probably not worth the investment of time and money that proper bot operation involves unless you are ready to make a meaningful commitment of time and funds.
As you probably already know, one of the main hassles in the online retail buying game is order cancellation. Sometimes the seller simply oversold their stock and needs to cancel.
However, the retailer may cancel your order if it exceeds their buying limit. They should enforce that at the checkout stage, but sometimes they fail to. Therefore, make sure your initial order does not exceed the stated limits of the company.
For example, Target has a limit of three of each item in each order and two orders overall. Don’t try to order more, or you could have all of your orders canceled!
Finally, avoid refreshing too heavily. Some sites, Topps.com in particular, treat that as bot-like behavior. Therefore, they may lock you out or force you to go through endless CAPTCHA tests. By the time you figure out which pictures have boats in them, the Prizm will be gone.
We hope this guide has been helpful. You will never manage to get all the retail products you want. However, if you follow this advice, you have a fighting chance to beat the competition.