In 2003, about one-third of households reported buying collectibles in the past year. This percentage has been about flat since 2001, when 34 percent bought the same. Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines a collectible as:

An object that is collected by fanciers; especially: one other than such traditionally collectible items as art, stamps, coins, and antiques.

With little guidance provided by the type of object that is considered collectible, the key to the definition of the term is that it is something—anything—that a fancier brings together into one grouping or place. The focus then is on the verb or act of collecting, and not that which is collected (i.e., the noun or the thing). Even the most disenfranchised members of our society, homeless people, carry "collections" of objects around with them. In some strange way, these objects, whether they are tin cans or just cast-offs from others, connect the street person with the life they led before. It represents some normalcy and a connection with "home" in an otherwise dysfunctional lifestyle.

Industry Snapshot

While the term collectible often refers to a vintage item that is not yet 100 years old and thus transformed into an antique on its centennial anniversary, there is a segment of the giftware industry that defines itself by the collectibles term and is represented by a trade association, The Gift & Collectibles Guild. Its members include companies that "design decorative objects, gifts, and limited-edition artwork and collectibles." Ever since the Beanie Babies collecting fad subsided, it has been a rough period for this industry that manufactures and markets new, as opposed to vintage, items for collecting. Overall industry sales are down by 17 percent in the past two years, with most categories, such as figurines, collectible dolls, and plush, dropping sharply (see Figure 8.8).




% CHG '00-'02

Total Personal Consumption in millions




Figurines and sculptures








Dolls, collectible




Plush toys, collectible








Crystal accessories




Boxes, music and nonmusic












Die-cast, collectible












Source: Unity Marketing

Figure 8.8: Collectibles Industry Snapshot

As the collectibles industry takes its licks, some companies are beginning to fold under the pressure. The Franklin Mint, one of the more prominent collectibles industry leaders in the roaring 1980s and 1990s, just laid off approximately two-thirds of its work force and closed its company stores as it restructures its business around the die-cast collecting segment. In its announcement, the company claimed: "The biggest problem we had was not getting the new collectors into the fold. The current business model is not working." In other words, nobody wants the stuff anymore. And The Franklin Mint is not alone in these difficulties. The Bradford Group, another direct sales company based in Niles, Illinois, has also undergone layoffs in the past year. Other public companies that have traditionally focused on collectibles are steadily seeing sales slide quarter after quarter, including Boyd's; Department 56; Enesco, home of Precious Moments; Media Arts, of Thomas Kinkade fame; and Middleton Doll Company.

Retail Overview

Collectors turn first to specialty stores to buy new items to add to their collections. About 35 percent reported they shopped in these types of stores to buy collectibles in the past year. They also looked to mail order, the Internet, and other nonstore channels, with about 28 percent reporting purchase through these sources. Rounding out the top three channels for collectibles purchases are discount department stores, where 21 percent of collectors shopped last year, with women in particular having a preference for the discount stores.

The online auction company eBay has truly turned the retailing of collectibles on its ear. Starting out with just a few categories of collectibles, today eBay boasts trade listings of 18,000 categories of merchandise available for sale and 62 million registered users. Being 100 percent market driven, eBay is able to respond immediately to the shifts and turns in collector's preferences, unlike traditional marketing companies, such as The Franklin Mint, that must make manufacturing decisions one to two years in advance. A few years ago eBay radar picked up that collectors were starting to list real cars under the die-cast heading, because that was the closest category where a real car could fit. Responding in a flash, eBay added a real car trading platform and today the sale of true collector cars, not miniature die-cast models, is one of their most profitable and fastest-growing sectors.

Purchase Drivers

Since 1996, the sales of primary market collectibles (i.e., new products that are manufactured and marketed solely for the enjoyment of the adult collector) have followed a roller-coaster trajectory of rapidly rising sales followed by an even more dramatic fall. Only collectible ornaments, a category gaining momentum with the consumer's interest in seasonal decorations, achieved significant growth in 2002.

The age of cocooning, defined by trend watcher Faith Popcorn back in the '80s and which lasted roughly until the end of the twentieth century, was a good period for collecting. Cocooning was all about feathering one's nest by gathering and collecting things to fill up one's emotional empty spaces. Collecting and collectibles were a favorite way consumers expressed their cocooning drives. But with the end of cocooning, consumers are turning away from accumulating more things and looking to reconnect in a meaningful way with the outside world. While an estimated one-third of consumers still collect, they are turning their collecting interests to other things besides what a consumer in a recent focus group called "dustibles." Collecting today is about collecting real things, not inauthentic items manufactured in China solely for collecting purposes.

With a shift toward authenticity, collectors are collecting vintage items, available in antique stores, on the secondary market, at auctions, and through Internet services like eBay. Consequently, the definition of what is a collectible is beginning to shift from an object that is "fancied" to one that has potential investment value. Today when you say something is collectible, it implies that someday it may be worth serious money. The emergence of eBay, Antiques Roadshow, and other venues that focus on finding lost treasures in the attic have given rise to this shift in definition.

Demographic Variables

Men and women report an equal incidence of purchasing collectibles in their households. Collectibles purchasing peaks in two age ranges: among the youngest consumers aged 18 to 24 and those aged 45 to 54. Traditionally, collecting has been a hobby associated with consumers in their empty-nesting years. However, today's younger consumers, particularly young men and women intrigued with the possibilities of finding desirable collectible items on the Internet, are pursuing collecting actively.

Buying collectibles is a practice associated with the highest-income households of $75,000 and above. Two-person-and-larger households are more likely to buy collectibles, although the presence of children in the home doesn't increase incidence.

Key Demographics of Buyers of Collectibles.

  • This category is gender neutral.

  • More affluent households buy more.

  • Two age segments—18 to 24 and 45 to 54—buy more.

  • Two-person and larger households buy more.

Why People Buy Things They Don't Need. Understanding and Predicting Consumer Behavior
Why People Buy Things They Dont Need: Understanding and Predicting Consumer Behavior
ISBN: 0793186021
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 137

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