While the bulk of my card collecting and writing on All Vintage Cards is focused on older cards, I admittedly have had the urge to buy some modern cards while shopping at Target or Walmart in the past.
However, when I went to Target recently to pick up some household items, I was disappointed to find the shelves that used to hold sports cards galore completely barren. So I set out to find the truth.
Can you still buy sports cards at Walmart or Target?
Unfortunately, it’s much harder today to find sports cards at Walmart or Target, as they both have suspended the selling of many sports and trading cards. They still sell some sports cards in-store and online, however, there is a huge variation in availability based on your specific location.
The surge in modern card pricing and the resultant ‘rise of the flippers’ has led to some not so pretty situations in these stores. And while there are rare cases where you might find some cards, the odds are quite slim.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons for the supply disruptions and if you still might be able to score a find at your local Walmart or Target.
Do you know of a location that is still selling cards? Drop a note in the comments below to let us know!
A Background On Hobby Versus Retail Card Distribution
Modern-era trading cards have become increasingly popular amongst hobbyists in recent years. The lure of expensive inserts, autograph cards, and 1 of 1’s has brought in a lot of people that are purely in it for the money.
The card manufacturers are able to generate revenues from two different sales channels---splitting the distribution of cards into both Hobby and Retail.
Hobby-issued unopened boxes tend to be more expensive, due to better chances of scoring a higher value insert card - usually one autograph per box, for example. These hobby boxes are distributed to card dealers, including online stores and local sports card shops.
Retail wax boxes are distributed to the big-box retailers such as Target and Walmart. Many refer to these smaller retail boxes as 'blaster boxes' as they hold a smaller number of packs and cards.
While Hobby boxes found through dealers have continued to sell well, the appeal of lower-priced retail boxes (which typically retail for between $20 to $30 per box, well below Hobby boxes) had spread like wildfire.
The fact that you could purchase a $20 box that might generate $100 to $200 worth of individual cards at retail was too promising to pass up.
I admittedly have phished through some old blaster boxes I had purchased at Target a few years ago and pulled out several $20, $30 or $40 cards, a lot of which I had written off as worthless. It was a welcome surprise.
Who knew that the trip to Target to grab a new belt a few years back where I blew a few hundred bucks on blaster boxes was maybe one of the better investments I've made in a while!
This sense of greed has reverberated far and wide; it has been quite common on many of the Facebook Groups that I belong to, to see flippers with shopping carts loaded with these blaster boxes trying to sell for a massive profit.
And I sort of had a hunch that many of the local card stores were hoarding the boxes, and then I discovered this post, and it really got my blood boiling:
I was in a card shop yesterday and there was a guy who seems to be one of those doing the most to ensure the drought. He's got the delivery networks all across Travis county wired, apparently. He and a friend have networked with store staff and others to know when a delivery is being made to any Target or WM around and based on that they know which other stores will be getting product that day so they can just go and wait to buy it all up. Then they run breaks with the boxes.
user SMAPDI -- Freedom cardboard forum
And then, well there's these guys (the pack searchers), which have been circulating in Target's and Walmart's for years...don't get me started.
Demand Has Far Outstripped Supply
The collector demand for these retail boxes has greatly outweighed the existing supply from manufacturers such as Topps and Panini, the two main suppliers for retail. In many cases, collectors are still paying well over retail prices for these blasters on eBay, knowing that the opportunity to still generate attractive profits is there.
In order to effectively sell cards now through these channels, there needs to be a delicate balance between supply and demand for everyone to remain happy. The card manufacturers can't completely flood the market (or we're back to the Junk Era) but they know they have a product that is ridiculously hot.
Both Target and Walmart had attempted to create a fairer process to help alleviate some of the greed driven activity. For example, Target had limited sales of specific items and even limited shelf distribution to specific days, yet even still, lines were forming outside the store before they opened.
In addition, many of these greedy flippers would bring down several buddies in order to help stack their supply. Here's a sign that had become a common sight in many local Targets over the past year.
Greedy Cards Flippers Gone Crazy
The situation took a scary turn back in May, when a bunch of card hoarders got a tip on a new shipment at a Target in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. The commotion was reminiscent of a typical Black Friday, with these barbarians grabbing single packs or even bulk boxes off the shelves.
It got worse at a Target store in Brookfield, Wisconsin when a man pulled out a firearm in a parking lot following an argument about who was gonna get the next Zion rookie card (this is a joke, but probably not too far from the truth). Nothing much came of it...a few arrests were made, however, these two events basically put the nail in the coffin on retail card sales.
In Mid May, Walmart and Target decided that they would jointly halt card sales-neither had any interest in putting its employees and customers (many of who could care less about sports cards) at risk.
“The safety of our guests and our team is our top priority. Out of an abundance of caution, we’ve decided to temporarily suspend the sale of MLB, NFL, NBA and Pokemon trading cards within our stores, effective May 14,” a spokesperson for Target said in a statement.
Even though the supply of cards was too low to meet demand, the situation was ultimately caused by the actions of greedy collectors. These people have no place in this hobby. Sure, maybe they have been a big part of helping prop up prices, but what good is that, when bubbles are being created?
Where Do We Go From Here?
There are two major issues at play here--first, the manufacturers need to be able to meet supply, but in a way that doesn't completely flood the market with product. If so, we basically have another Junk Era on our hands.
And then the stores themselves (Target, Walmart) need to create some sort of system where they can fairly and equitably distribute product to customers without creating mass hysteria.
The most likely approach to try and stem some demand is the prospect of raising retail prices. Sports cards were initially meant to be a healthy hobby for passionate collectors and fans. Flippers have created an imbalance, as their motive is primarily profit.
By raising prices, sports cards may become less enticing for flippers, thus decreasing the odds of outrage and increasing the availability of sports cards for true collectors...and well KIDS!!
Will Walmart and Target Start Selling Popular Sports Cards Again?
The hope is that the suspension is only a temporary way of handling the situation. Target has stated that they are fully committed to restocking the shelves with sports cards again in the future and are working on plans to ensure the safety and happiness of all customers during these sales. Walmart also agrees that measures need to be taken to ensure the safety of patrons.
In some cases, sports cards may still be available for purchase on Walmart and Target’s online stores. Online stores pose no risks for the physical safety of customers and create a much more efficient way of distribution. But, the odds of finding these boxes online at actual retail prices are quite slim.
I did a recent search on Walmart.com and found a lot of third party sellers hawking blaster boxes at prices way over retail prices.
Thus, buyer beware when buying online at Target.com or Walmart.com
The easy way out here would just be to move all card sales online, as you completely remove the safety risks, the lines out the store and the empty store shelves. But the brick and mortar card sales are still attractive both for the retailer and the card companies as it provides another channel that isn't a local card store (or an online dealer).
Note that Target has slowly started to resume sales of Pokemon cards in store, so this could potentially be a sign that they are slowly making their way to resume sports card sales.
Do Walmart and Target Still Sell Sports Cards?
When Target and Walmart announced their card sales suspension, it was primarily focused on the sports cards that were causing commotions--namely Baseball, Basketball and Football cards (along with Pokemon). Thankfully, not all sports cards were suspended by these retail giants. Customers may be able to find soccer, NHL, UFC, and NASCAR trading cards at Target.
It is definitely going to vary by location, but I have heard of some collectors finding some baseball issues at Walmart, however typically it's lower priced issues that aren't all that desirable.
What Other Big Box Retailers Sell Sports Cards?
According to the folks at Panini, they sell at many other retail locations, including places such as Dick's Sporting Goods, CVS, Walgreens, Dollar Tree, BJ's Wholesale and Sam's Club. I've even heard of people finding cards at Barnes and Noble--who knew?
I had seen some recent Score Football retail boxes for sale at BJ's in a Facebook group, but wasn't quick enough to find any for sale. And even still, the cards are the bottom of the basement issue for Panini. They are of course selling on the second market at a pretty decent markup.
It is shocking how much greed has run rampant in this hobby. Hey, I'm all for anyone making a profit buying and selling cards, but when your kid can't buy a $20 box of cards at their local Target anymore, it's gone way too far.
I'm not sure if all of the logistics can be ironed out - because, let's face it, the greed runs far and wide. When dealers are paying off distributors and stealing all of the fun from the kids who should be enjoying it, I'm not sure why the Target's of the world would even care to stock cards on their shelves anymore.
Ultimately, I hope they do, because for me, personally it had become a right of passage to blow a few bucks at Target and have some fun with my kids opening up packs. If the answer is to dial up supplies, well, that's not going to end well.
It will be interesting to see what happens and here's to hoping that some normalcy can return to the retail sports card channels.