Clearing Up the Mystery: What I’d Change About Trading Vinylmation

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By DV Contributor RMThompson

First, let me preface this entire article by telling you that I love trading in the parks. I really don’t ever want to see Vinylmation trading disappear, and if we HAD to keep it in its current form (flaws included) or not have it at all, I’d take the flawed version any day. Still, it’s not a perfect system and one that is often met with disdain and looks of confusion among newer Vinylmation collectors and up to and including loathing among those more serious collectors. So, with that in mind, this article will discuss what things might possibly be fixed, and hopefully we can “clear” things up. You’ll get why that’s a pun later, but for now let’s start with:

1. Create a small set of rules that can be posted ON or NEAR the box, and make sure everyone sticks to it.
Part of the confusion in the current Vinylmation world comes from the lack of knowledge of the Cast Members in charge of selling or trading this product. This is not only a problem with trading, but with general knowledge. Some cast members can’t answer basic questions regarding Vinylmation, let alone trading. Then, there are those that follow the rules TOO rigidly. For example, recently I saw a young man go up to a box that others were trading from, the cast member asked him what number he wanted and took out a random Have-A-Laugh figure. The young man looked down at his trader, and then back towards the Have-A-Laugh, and told the cast member he didn’t want to trade. The cast member insisted that he MUST complete the transaction because “those were the rules”, even though there was no signage indicating so, and he didn’t tell this person the rules. He repeated to the guest that he “needed to complete the transaction” until the guest simply walked out of the store; after all, it WAS his Vinylmation, rules or not.

Nick trades at D-Street Orlando

To clarify, the rules do state that you have to give your figure in before being given the figure you’ve selected. They also state that you can only trade once out of the mystery box and once out of the clear box. There are cast members who, thankfully, break these rules as well. Why cherry picking boxes for possible chasers is not a good thing, some cast members know that pulling ANOTHER Toy Story Big Baby after trading one in is more than frustrating, and will let you chose again. Others have been known to let people pick up to three or more choices, (or even flip the entire box around) while others stick to the once-and-your-done rule.

If nothing else was to change in the Vinylmation trading world, I would allow two chances from the mystery box… and perhaps another if they get the same item they turned in. Remember that these experiences are supposed to invite the customer in, and excite them about Vinylmation, not turn them off to collecting. Disney, and  collectors, all benefit when new collectors start buying Vinylmation.

2. Expand the number of locations that allow trading, including location-specific trading.
Ever notice where all the trading boxes are in Disney theme parks? Yes, right near the largest Vinylmation displays. This makes sense, you want people to be able to trade right after they buy, but why limit the trading to those high-profile locations? It would seem that it might make sense to add some locations that aren’t already selling a high number of Vinylmation. There are some stores that could even have limited “themed” trading; where certain locations only allowed trading of a specific series, limiting the number of repeats in the trade box, but also adding another layer of experience for the customer.

Disney has tried different types of trading like this in the Emporium.

Imagine a box somewhere near Pixar Place that only allows trading of “Toy Story” figures, or trading of the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” series only in the large store near the ride’s exit. Even if they weren’t location specific, adding new locations to lower-trafficked stores would not only push collectors into these locations, but perhaps even allow for a longer guest/cast member experience and allow the cast members a longer time to spend trading and communicating with the guest.

Another idea would to have a cart in each park that travels around and trades, making finding it a random occurrence, and more akin to the pin trading that collectors have enjoyed for years. These carts could have a blend of clear and mystery trading, and people love trading with cast members while walking around the parks! Speaking of that…

3. Create lanyards or hip-holsters that hold 3 figures for mystery trading with cast members.
Rumor has it that the original idea for trading within the parks would’ve meant a lanyard holster, with 8 to 10 figures held on it, but the weight of it led them to the store based boxes instead. Well, why not have both? While carrying 8/10 figures might get hard, especially in the Florida heat, 3 figures would not be that difficult to carry around, especially if they were somehow held on the hip. If you’re familiar with the hip-based pin holders, you can imagine the same thing for Vinylmation, only with 3 spots (covered up with the Vinylmation ? chaser logo of course) that would allow for mystery trading.

Jr Trading

This, again, increases the randomness of finding a figure, something pin traders have enjoyed for years, and could lead to a greater guest and cast member experience. Imagine waiting in line for Space Mountain (whose store no longer has trading) and seeing a cast member with the mystery pouch. You trade with them for a figure you’re missing, and now waiting in line has become a positive experience! Also, this would be a better place to have cast chasers be launched, instead of the mystery boxes they are in now that allow cherry picking…. Which leads me to:

4. Replace the mystery boxes with clear boxes of the same design.
This is the biggest change I would make, and one that I think could really decrease the number of repeated figures found in boxes, while increasing the number of new figures collectors could find? How? By adopting the same rules found in Pin Trading; you cannot trade in a figure if the box already holds the same figure.

The current 3 figure clear trading boxes

Imagine the mystery boxes were all replaced with clear versions of the same. When you walk into the store, you can see the box behind the counter. Without bothering a cast member, you can see if there are any figures you are looking for. If you DO spot one, you can then get in line and trade with the cast member. However, if all you have to trade is a figure already in the box, you aren’t allowed. This solves a number of issues, and while it seems to counter the “fun” in the mystery, would actually make people much happier, as they see what they are going to get. It eliminates having several of the same figure in the boxes, which is an epidemic at certain trade boxes in the parks, and means that the most of any one figure scattered around the park would be at maximum one-per-box.

Also, if there is a figure you need and you don’t have an appropriate trader, you could buy a figure, located close to the trading of course, thus increasing sales for Vinylmation. It’s really a win-win for everyone.

I can see how some people would be discouraged by this change, after all Vinylmation collectors are notoriously bad at handing change. The greedy will maintain that the figures hiding in the mystery boxes increase the chances of finding a rare or out of print figure, after all I myself found an Urban 1 Oopsy in a mystery box less than 6 months ago, but if the number of chasers found in the clear boxes is any indication, some traders either don’t know the value of certain figures, or don’t care, and I am sure hard to find figures would make their way to the boxes.  Also, if #3 on this list was also instated, it would be able to satisfy those with the urge to blind trade, without tying up cast members at a retail location.

So that’s it. Again, I love the trading, and really don’t want it to go away, but if the new mold is any indication, the team at Vinylmation is ALWAYS looking at new ways to increase the quality of the product and experience. Here’s hoping trading is including in those discussions.

Also, what do you, the reader and collector, think of these changes? Are there OTHER changes you would create if you were in charge?

Until next time, make mine Vinylmation!

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About the author

Nick LoCicero

Nick LoCicero has almost 20 years experience in the media industry. He has worked on numerous Disney related media projects, most know at WDWNT for WDW News Tonight. He has been visiting Walt Disney World since 1982. After moving to Orlando in the late 90's he became a passholder, developed a fascination with the history of the vacation kingdom and has spent way too much money on park merchandise.

8 Comments

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  • I absolutely agree with several of the points you made. There need to be consistent, clear rules for trading. I’ve only been to the parks once since they implemented trading and had several different experiences varying from no insight into the mystery box to turning the box around so I could pick the one I wanted. I do have to disagree with making the boxes clear though. By having the boxes obscured, you give the general population a chance to score a great piece. If the boxes were clear you would have essentially have people raiding the boxes for the prized pieces and removing that chance score by the general population. I do agree that the system needs some modification though. Great points and ideas.

  • I agree they need to get a set of rules that is posted. I was at Disneyland last month and at D-Street they would only let me trade once from out of the mystery box but when I was in the park the cast member let me trade twice from the mystery box. My thought at the time was that the mystery box in the park was a 15 and the box at D-street was a 24 so the store in the park let me trade more since there were not as many?

  • I agree with everything except making all trading boxes in stores clear. I only recently started collecting, but I’ve noticed that a lot of others that collect seem a bit fanatical. This is also evidenced by the pictures I’ve seen of the recent DLR sale, with people wheeling around 20+ vinylmation cases. If you make the cases clear, you’re going to get these reseller types coming in every morning and combing each box for potential cash cows. I trust blind trading more. Pin trading isn’t blind and that results in copious “lanyard fodder” 9/10. I don’t want the same with vinylmation trading.

  • I can agree with you on every point but the last. The rules are too rigid if enforced (especially on kids)… and i once was forced to take a CYO, which i can no longer trade back. huh? ok, so let’s make it a bit more magical.

    But I love the mystery box. i think a lot of people do. The weekend I got engaged, i can’t tell you how excited we were to trade out an America Sings for a Haunted Mansion Clock. We loved that piece and couldn’t believe we got it in the box. that weekend is full of memories like that. Even this past weekend, we got a TON of Cutester Kids… but the pure excitement to pull a WDW Cast Chaser? It’s not something easily matched.

    As someone who lives fairly far from the parks (3 hours)…. having only clear boxes is pure cherry picking for eBayers in Orlando. Sure, a few people who would be able to grab from that box would be actual collectors… but if we’ve learned nothing from Goof Troop (or any high demand LE item)… it’s that we have sharks in our midst, and a clear box would only be chumming the waters. so what? now instead of the anticipation and the potential excitement of pulling something awesome, I, as someone who already can’t come at random (and i’ve noticed a pattern of the boxes being cycled during the week… leaving less items of awesomeness in the box for us weekend only people, though there might be a few), am stuck at the end of the cycle. So now I KNOW that the only things available to me are 6 Gear Bears, 4 Scarf Kids, Big Baby, Rex, Ham, America Sings, Monstro, Troll, Hippie, Cry Baby etc… and IF there’s a good one to choose from… i have to BUY more? and what if i’m not in a position to afford several bloxes? what happens if i STILL don’t get one that is tradable. I have better hope that maybe there’s an open box set you can buy. I myself don’t have endless amounts of money to spare (with a wedding coming up)… so i’m no longer able to trade? Win-Win? Hardly. only for people who can afford to win.

    I also think it’s kinda lame that you call people/assume people are greedy just because they want to be able to pull figures that they either a) need for their collection or b) can actually use to bargain for items they want for their collection. Honestly, as i stated before, i think that by opening up the box… you only invite greed from NON-collectors, and leave the crummy stuff to those of us who just want to find good items to collect. and is it simply greedy because we enjoy the excitement of the pull? yes… we got a second WDW chaser this past weekend… which we are able to use for items we wouldn’t have been able to bargain for before (i’ve been offered a variant, and a retired osbourn 09). It was so much excitement for us!!! I can almost guarantee you that figure would have been LONG gone from that store before we got there (at noon), and probably already listed on ebay.

    Mystery box trading CAN be a let down… but it can be rewarding. Honestly, it has become one of our favorite part of visiting WDW. You can make improvements. you can add the pouches the the cast members (brilliant). let people choose more then once. Don’t FORCE a trade (again, esp with a little kid). But don’t open box the trading entirely, or even mostly. I think it only makes the experience less exciting and far less magical.

  • I agree with most of what you put in the article like almost everybody here. I would not get rid of the mystery boxes either. I would love to see more in clear boxes though. I personally think it would be great if the stores had a clear box the same size as their mystery box. My kids love the mystery and the excitement of trading out of it. I enjoy it too.

    I would appreciate being able to look at a clear box with more than the standard figures though. At WDW in November I pulled most of my favorite figures out of clear boxes but I never had that luck at Disneyland. A bigger clear box with the same rules of no duplicate figures would allow for more variety, but I still want my mystery.

  • Great article the first and second point is key more locations and more chances at the mystery box.

    Its like Im not the only one who thinks disney trading is a non-perfect system. You did a great job Ryan with every point you mentioned.

  • I’ve only recently started trading, so forgive me if this isn’t news — but there does seem to be a slight change coming it seems. When I traded at D-Street a few days ago, the CM told me they were going to be changing the boxes soon. She said there would be a 5-space mystery box and a 5-space clear box only at each location. So basically, less mystery, more clear.

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