A little while ago, a friend and coworker came to the office excited about something. Just the day before, Nintendo did the unthinkable and rereleased their original 8-bit system with 30 pre-loaded games, including all the major megahits of the late eighties and nineties. It retails for about sixty dollars from most of the big box stores (Walmart, Target, Toys-R-Us, etc.), and in their usual fashion, Nintendo has strategically issued a very limited quantity, letting stores stock an average of ten systems at a time.
The catch is that these systems are being throttled out to the public just two weeks before Christmas, making them the most sought-after gift of the season, second only to Hatchimals. Yes, that's right, Hatchimals, a weird, gimmicky, oddball toy that children and parents across the country must, absolutely must, must, must have. Last week a Hatchimal was retailing for $50. Earlier this week their prices went up, and now you'll pay anywhere from seventy to eighty dollars for one, if you're lucky enough to find it in a store. Most buyers aren't that lucky, and are forced to buy their Hatchimal from eBay.
Which brings us back to eBay, a wonderful place where every predatory seller and gullible buyer can convene and engage in the 21st century's idea of open commerce. If you search for an NES Classic Edition system on eBay, you will find a few, most priced at $250, and some for $300. Think about that for a second. An 8 bit video game system - an 8 bit system - with only 30 available games, is being sold for $300. This system lost currency twenty-five years ago, when Nintendo 64 finally invaded every thirteen year-old's living room and unseated the little grey king.
If you search for a Hatchimal, the $70 store prices disappear, and you can say hello to $95, $115, and even one $5,000 item, none of which are any different from what Toys-R-Us had in stock mere days ago. The craze for these weird little stuffed animals is intense, and competition for them is fierce. What is less clear is whether the craze will even last until Christmas, or if this is a rare case of a holiday hot ticket item that supernovas into a black hole of disgusted parents who gave up and got little Sammy or Susie a Cabbage Patch Kid instead.
My sense is that the lofty prices for these two items on eBay signify a desperation on the part of the buyer, and a veritable goldmine for the seller. My buddy at work has stood frozen and exhausted in eight lines in front of as many stores, huddled next to his girlfriend in a tent for six to eight hours straight, amidst ten or fifteen other wackos, waiting for the moment the store opens its doors and hands the first few people their ticket to buy a Nintendo. So far he has made $850 selling eight systems, basically doubling his money.
In recent years I've gone on and on about the ridiculous prices for discontinued and vintage perfumes on eBay, pointing out that many of these fragrances are being billed as somehow "desirable," despite being taken off the commercial market or simply being reformulated and kept in the game. You could spend eighty dollars on a new bottle of Polo from CVS, or you could hop on eBay and consider buying a vintage bottle of Polo priced at $300 by seller bad_doggy! The choice is yours.
Despite how absurd the choice is, I have been told repeatedly that the reasons for the $300 bottle of Polo, and for any similarly priced vintage fragrance that saw perhaps a little popularity in prior decades, are abundant and self-evident: they have "fan bases," they are examples of supply and demand, they are products that never deteriorate in chemical quality, and thus appreciate in worth, etc. Of course none of these reasons actually address why someone like bad_doggy! might think their price is reasonable.
They touch on subjective interpretations of the state of Polo cologne, and how the public interprets its worth, but fail to find a causal connection for why anyone would attempt to sell a bottle for four times the current asking price of the very same fragrance, or for why anyone would be crazy enough to buy it. To date, I have still not read a cogent argument for why I should consider a vintage bottle of any fragrance to be worth anything more than its original price, adjusted for inflation.
A 4 oz bottle of Polo cologne in 1978 was probably priced at about $35. Adjusted for inflation, that makes bad_doggy!'s bottle worth $129. Where does he get the other $171 from? Not only is his bottle of cologne probably a bit skunked from age, but it is in no measurable way superior, in packaging or practicality, to the $80 bottle at CVS down the street. You can't even argue that his vintage is rare; I have seen at least a dozen other such bottles on eBay over the last five years. (All of them were priced at over $200.)
What I see with the Nintendo and Hatchimal phenomenon is how inflated prices on eBay are actually formulated. The Nintendo is currently in very high demand, but there are almost none of them available, making supply egregiously low. The physics of commerce suggests this is the reason their prices are astronomical at the moment. But there' a little wrinkle, a crucial wrinkle, to that theory. NES classic will be available in wider distribution in January, after Christmas. Prices will remain fairly static for them in stores. If you're desperate for an NES Classic, why not wait until January?
The Hatchimal situation is a bit less contentious than the Nintendo deal, because supply is slightly better, and resale prices are a bit more reasonable, especially at $90. But again, this is just a crappy toy. A carbon egg with stress lines that is gently crushed by a weak robotic beak from within. Kids may love it, but it's not high tech, it's not particularly rewarding (it only hatches once), and why would anyone think $5,000 is a reasonable price?
Well, maybe because the item is being sold by a self-described war veteran with a tall tale about how catastrophe has struck, and he must raise the money to save his house. In other words, we are supposed to believe a total stranger on the Internet, and spend a gazillion times more than the retail asking price, out of the goodness of our discerning hearts. After all, the vet's story must be true. Nobody lies on the Internet, and certainly not on eBay!
In the case of Nintendo and Hatchimals, we see that supply is limited, and demand is high. In both cases, especially with the Nintendo system, there are people like my friend who see a golden opportunity to cash in by braving the elements, buying the product at the store, and reselling it on eBay for four or five times its retail price. This constitutes a trend where buyers are only buying to sell. In this regard, I see how the Nintendo phenomenon mirrors the vintage perfume situation.
Many vintages are "chronic" list items on eBay. Despite how rare they supposedly are, we always see bottles being listed, with prices that usually do not reflect their actual supply. There are currently 18 bottles of vintage Patou Pour Homme EDT listed, with prices ranging from $80 (for a mini) to $1,998 (for 3 ounces). Patou is supposedly "rare." This supposedly justifies its prices.
Contrast this to Davidoff Cool Water, a fragrance far more sought after, particularly in vintage form. A current search reveals there are no bottles of vintage Cool Water available, yet the Macy's in my city has a bottle accidentally in stock for $75. I have a bottle of late vintage on my bookshelf. I probably couldn't get any more than fifty dollars for it.
So why is a fragrance as dated and heavy and downright anachronistic as Patou Pour Homme enjoying $800 - $2,000 prices, while the far more historically significant Cool Water remains in the commercial doldrums? Why is it that I have to peruse eighteen listings, all of them with contradictory prices, when I search for Patou, yet the truly rare Cool Water gets zero buzz?
It's the Nintendo situation. People aren't really buying Patou PH to wear it. I don't care how rich you are, if you see there are 18 bottles of vintage Patou on eBay, and all are priced over $400, you're going to wait a little longer still to buy one if you intend to actually wear and enjoy it. Some day, you think to yourself, someone will wave the white flag and take a loss. They will take a loss, because almost all the sellers bought Patou for the same reason people are braving wild overnight lines in front of big box stores to buy NES Classic: to resell it.
The difference is that buying Patou PH to resell means you have to raise its already astronomical price to an even higher plateau of absurdity, and then say a prayer that you aren't out $800 in vain, that there really is someone greedy enough to spend $1,900 on your bottle. There is currently an $820 bottle from Germany that I have seen a few times before. I saw it last year for $650, and the year before for around $500. Clearly this bottle will never be worn by anyone. It simply trades hands between sellers, and will continue to do so until someone realizes they fucked up and spent too much on a fragrance mislabeled as "rare."
The difference is also that those buying the NES system on eBay for $299 aren't going to resell it. This price is its ceiling. The prices are contingent on the holidays, buyers know that the window of opportunity is limited, and thus far more competitive than the market for Patou is. Yet Nintendo is around the same age as Patou, far more dynamic in its cultural value, and still far cheaper than the fragrance.
The situation with eBay Hatchimals is simply demonstrative of how "dirty" the Internet is for gullible buyers. For every reasonably priced Hatchimal, there is one with a few dollars too many tacked onto the tag. There are sob stories from fake war vets, unsubstantiated "rare edition" listings, and any other iteration of "scam" that exists. When you stop to consider just how unremarkable the toy is, you realize that spending anything beyond retail for it is a poor investment.
So what is the lesson here? It's not complicated, and easy to remember: eBay is for bullshit artists and people who lack patience and wisdom. If you buy that $300 bottle of Polo, I don't know what else to tell you, other than that there's a Hatchimal with your name on it, and an NES Classic that I'd love to sell you.