The Goofy Economics of Secondhand Amiibo

by Doc – Owner, Founder, Glad To Finally Put His Bachelor’s in Economics to Use

We’re about to see the release of the Zelda & Loftwing amiibo tomorrow, which will bring about more complaints about scalping, and the excessive prices of secondhand amiibo. Nintendo has actually just announced that supply will be limited at first due to shipping difficulties, which gives us a great time to see the economics of secondhand amiibo.

There’s a few rules to the economics of secondhand amiibo, and if you’re interested in markets, finance or economics in any capacity, keep an eye on what happens to the prices of the Zelda & Loftwing amiibo over the upcoming months. You’ll see a real-life adaptation of the rules of these fields of study, especially where the classic ‘Supply and Demand’ is concerned.

General Rules

Before we begin, remember the good old rule of Supply and Demand – where supply meets demand is where price is determined. Thus, if demand is greater than the supply, prices will be higher, and if supply is greater than demand, prices will be lower. I’ll assume you remember Econ 101.

General Rule #1: MSRP is the Price Floor

With very few exceptions, which we’ll cover, amiibo have never sold secondhand for less than their MSRP value. Obviously in ten years this won’t be the case (unless Nintendo still supports amiibo, which is unlikely), but in the last seven years of amiibo we’ve basically never seen this happen.

This means that Zelda & Loftwing will most likely always sell for more than $25, from now until all interest is lost in amiibo. That’s why scalpers love to scalp amiibo: it’s practically guaranteed to be a profitable investment, even if it gets restocked. When amiibo get restocked, the price drops back down to MSRP for several months, up to a year, and stays there as long as someone can still buy that amiibo for MSRP from the shelf of a retail store. So the scalper still never loses money because at worst he’ll just end up selling it for the same MSRP that he bought it for.

Here’s an example: this Amazon Affiliate link’s Bowser Jr. amiibo is currently $13, as of July 15, 2021, the time of this writing. It’s six months out from the reprint, and it still sells for MSRP. This is because the reprint hasn’t completely sold off that shelf. However, prior to this reprint, Bowser Jr. amiibo was close to $60, because it had been so long since that amiibo was available for MSRP. I expect this price will increase before this time next year.

General Rule #2: Collectors and Users Create The Demand

With almost 800 amiibo, Nintendo simply isn’t reprinting amiibo that aren’t relevant to new releases. See: the Bowser and Bowser Jr. amiibo reprints, and the upcoming Dark Samus and Ridley amiibo reprints for Metroid: Dread. You’ll notice Nintendo reprints these amiibo because recent and upcoming games use them, but they’re not hustling to reprint Kirby series Waddle Dee amiibo, until a new Kirby game comes out that uses that amiibo. Why would they? Nobody’s needing that amiibo at the moment for their game.

Suppose you’re one of the amiibo collectors who aren’t interested in Zelda, but you try to maintain a collection of amiibo anyway, and that you’re going to buy the Zelda & Loftwing amiibo tomorrow morning. Even though you’re not planning to use it with anything, you still want that amiibo. You’re an end consumer of the amiibo, so you contribute to demand even though you don’t have an associated game for it.

You might be saying to yourself, “Gee Doc, what about scalpers? Don’t they add to the demand for an amiibo?” And you’d be right, kinda – scalpers don’t actually demand the amiibo, necessarily. Scalpers function as a middleman to get the amiibo to the buyer. As was explained above, scalpers love amiibo because it’s an investment, but they’re not actually the end consumer of the amiibo so we don’t need to factor them into the traditional view of “Demand”.

Literally what a collector looks like when he finds that special amiibo.

General Rule #3: Long-Term Demand Comes from Collectors, Not Game Compatibility

Who the hell needs a Detective Pikachu amiibo? It doesn’t do hardly anything in any game, besides giving you access to cutscenes in the Detective Pikachu game that barely sold. But it sells for $90 at the moment. I highly doubt that there’s enough demand for accessing all the cutscenes in Detective Pikachu that someone is willing to pay $90 for it.

Well, collectors want it. It’s been 3 years since the amiibo released, so there’s not many of them available (we’ll get to that in Rule #4), and it’s Pikachu, a pretty popular character. An amiibo collector would surely like to get their hands on one of the weirdest adaptations of Pikachu, but a player wouldn’t care much.

Whatever demand that Detective Pikachu may have originally had at its release is gone now – the Detective Pikachu game is out of the spotlight and no longer relevant to any Nintendo fans or potential amiibo customers, so there’s really no leftover demand stemming from game compatibility.

Exceptions to the Rules

Exception to Rule #1: Oversupply

Lucas and Ryu, and anything with the name “Animal Crossing” are the examples that come to mind. Almost immediately, Lucas and Ryu amiibo were overstocked and remained on the shelves for months, and the same was true for the Animal Crossing amiibo. Retailers gradually became desperate to clear up the space so they started to sell off these amiibo at-cost, which is below MSRP. This drove down prices in the secondhand market, and to this day there are some examples like the Digby amiibo that are still below its initial MSRP.

Exception to Rule #2: Nintendo Business Strategy

The supply strategy that I described in Rule #2 is a more recent development, and has only really taken shape over the last two years. Nintendo’s amiibo strategies have been all over the map, with a whole host of different approaches, including:

  • Producing a fixed amount of amiibo that work with a specific game and never replenishing (Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival)
  • Reprinting amiibo that are about to be in-demand for recent and upcoming games (Metroid: Dread and Bowser’s Fury)
  • Producing game updates to sell unsold amiibo (Animal Crossing New Leaf: Welcome Amiibo update, to sell the leftover amiibo from Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival and Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer)
  • Discontinue certain amiibo and hope that the blowback doesn’t become a hashtag (Most of the Wii U era)
  • And of course, making new amiibo that work with a specific game and keeping an eye out for possible reprints down the line (Smash Ultimate)

While the overall rule of Rule #2 is still true, the way that Nintendo meets this demand (by printing/reprinting only when new games come out) could change at any time.

Exception to Rule #3: Smash Ultimate/Animal Crossing

One of the tremendous pains in the behind with this rule is that sometimes games actually have good amiibo functionality. Fortunately, Nintendo half-assed amiibo usage outside of Smash Ultimate and Animal Crossing, so we only have to worry about these titles.

Unfortunately, many people get interested in things like amiibo training long after most of the Smash Bros cast’s amiibo are on the shelf, and don’t have a thousand dollars to spend on getting the amiibo they want. While many of them end up going to the amiibo card solutions, others still seek to get the original figures. This is one of the few exceptions where the demand for amiibo comes from the use of an amiibo in the game, instead of being a collector’s desire.

The Final Analysis

Amiibo is an incredibly odd case of a monopoly becoming subject to a perfectly competitive market, but with incredible amounts of unequal information. Most of what I’ve written here is subject to the assumption that Nintendo is the sole supplier of amiibo – but as we all know at Amiibo Doctor, that’s clearly not the case. Unofficial cards and functionality flood the market on a regular basis, and are drastically altering how these rules operate over time.

As the market for amiibo shifts with more and more people becoming aware of these very cheap alternatives to the official figures, keep these rules in mind. They may not last forever.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s