In late 2015 Upper Deck surprised the hobby hockey card market with e-Pack, a virtual consumer portal featuring both primary and secondary markets in a convenient, easy-to-use online platform. Collectors can buy, sell, trade, and grade cards online without leaving their home. Naturally, brick and mortar hobby proprietors felt the immediate threat of cannibalized sales, both in-store and online, due to the compelling platform.
At the Industry Summit in Hawaii, Upper Deck organized a session with hobby dealers and distributors to discuss e-Pack and address the many questions surrounding the program. It was evident from this meeting that virtually all hobby dealers were pessimistic about e-Pack, with many sharing stories of how it had already negatively impacted their business.
In response to this feedback, Upper Deck agreed to implement several initiatives designed to use e-Pack to drive consumers to brick and mortar stores. These initiatives include, 1) sharing the complete schedule of upcoming e-Pack releases as they become available; 2) adding a link to the dealer locator in the e-Pack news feed, with plans to make the dealer locater a part of the platform; 3) using the e-Pack platform to announce and market hobby-exclusive product releases; and, 4) ensuring a better balance regarding e-Pack exclusive content versus hobby exclusive content.
Upper Deck has promised to continue to evolve e-Pack with the hobby shops' concerns in mind. It is clear that e-Pack is not going away. Upper Deck has spent several years developing the platform, and we can expect it to be actively promoted. Therefore, it is up to us, the hobby dealers and distributors, to make sure Upper Deck keeps its promise to listen and respond to our concerns. Our collective energy is best spent on ways in which we can use e-Pack to drive customers to hobby stores, websites, or break activities.
However, in order for Upper Deck to be held to account, we need to provide constructive and professional feedback on a regular basis. We at Universal will work as your advocate but we need your help in creating workable strategies. Talk to your customers for feedback on their experiences with e-Pack and what keeps them coming back to you. One idea for example, could be to assign a portion of a retailer's product allocation to e-Pack, and when a product is sold out in-store, they would have access to their virtual product via the e-Pack platform. I don't know if this could actually work, but it is an example of an idea that we should be exploring.
Internet retailing such as e-Pack is a fact. It doesn't help to ignore it, or be angry or cynical. I am confident that if correctly evolved, we can use e-Pack to grow our hobby. For sure, there are some incredible opportunities available through the e-Pack platform. However, we need to remind Upper Deck that the brick and mortar store is responsible for hockey's incredible success over the last 25 years, and will continue to be the backbone of collecting in Canada for years to come. Upper Deck needs to assure the hobby brick and mortar that the goal of e-Pack is to significantly expand the hobby, and bring new and lapsed collectors back to collecting. If we can help them do that, it benefits us all.