I know, for most of you, this is nothing more than a hobby or just something you're doing for you kids, but a little bit of knowledge can go a long way.
You wouldn't try to fly an airplane without first learning what all the buttons, knobs, and levers do. In the same way, you should know the terminology, understand how Skylanders are released, and be prepared for the long haul.
While I would highly recommend that everyone should read through the entire Getting Started section, there are a few key articles that will aide you in your Skylanders hunting. These include:
Each of these articles contain important information, but if you only have time to read one, I recommend Waves. This is probably the biggest issue that newcomers don't understand right away.
As I mentioned above, knowledge of Skylanders Waves are critical to the hunt.
To summarize the article I linked to above: Not all Skylanders are released in October when the new game is released. They are released periodically over the course of the year, typically from October through June.
To get a better idea of how many and when new figures are released, I urge you to take a look at the release schedules from previous years.
SWAP Force Release Dates (2013-2014)
Trap Team Release Dates (2014-present)
If you compare the lists above, you'll see that the release schedule is basically the same from year to year, it's just a matter of which figures will be in which Wave.
Each online retailer has its own set of quirks when it comes to listing and selling Skylanders. The more you know, the better chance you have to find, and hopefully get, what you are looking for.
To get a better idea of what I'm talking about, let's take a look at some of the major players.
You probably know that Amazon sells everything. You can think of them as the online version of Walmart (even through Walmart does have their own website and is increasing their online presence, they still do not compare to Amazon). They're your one-stop shop.
What you might not know is that (when possible) Amazon does try to ad-match. They're not well-advertised, but they have semi-frequent Buy 2, Get 1 Free type sales.
In any case, what you really need to know about Amazon is how they add new or replenishment product to the site. Let's look at a recent example:
When the Amazon employee scans this case into the system the Traps are immediately available for purchase, but there will only be 2 or 3 Kaos Traps available. So now, while there will be two or three very happy, lucky customers out there, appear to go out of stock in just minutes or even seconds.
However, as you may have guessed, Amazon does not just get one case of Traps in stock at a time. Within a few minutes, the next case will be scanned into the system and another handful of Traps will be made available.
Depending on the particular product and the quantity that Amazon receives, this could go on for just a few minutes or even an hour. This is why you hear about people spending hours of their day hitting the refresh button.
As opposed to Amazon, GameStop has a much more narrow focus. Since their entire business revolves around video games they can give a little more individualized attention to a franchise like Skylanders. (In fact, they even have a Skylanders Division at their warehouse in Texas.)
With this special attention given to Skylanders, GameStop has been known to create their own Skylanders bundles. These bundles typically include one rare Skylander (often a Chase Variant) along with a number of extremely common figures.
While all products in the bundle are sold at the normal GameStop retail price, the bundles allow them to sell more items quickly and clear their warehouse of less desirable products.
One final note I need to make about shopping online.
Even in today's fast-paced, technological world, no one has it done perfectly. Whether you know it or not there is a good chance that the website you are viewing on your laptop is not the same version of the site you are viewing on your smartphone.
So when we're talking about up-to-minute (or second) in-stock inventory updates, you could run into some problems.
What does this mean for you?
If you think a particular item should be in stock, but you're not seeing it or you're having trouble purchasing it, try to view it on a different device.
There are no guarantees this will solve all your problems, but it's worth a shot.
Now that you know how Skylanders are released and have a better grasp of the online market, I have a few other tools that can help you in your search.
This is a site where you can set up alerts for when products become available (or in-stock) at retail price (or a price of your choosing) online. These alerts can be sent to you via email or even in a text message.
I have only used WiiAlerts for Amazon availability, but you can set up alerts for most major online retailers.
While the service itself is quite reliable, you still have to act very quickly in order to purchase the item(s) you're looking for.
There are other sites out there that offer similar services, but WiiAlerts is the only one I have direct experience with.
As you may be able to guess from the name, BrickSeek was originally created to hunt down Lego sets.
However, the way it's set up, you can use it to search for any product as long as you have the proper item code.
Unlike WiiAlerts, BrickSeek does not send out alerts. Instead it allows you to check a store's inventory (currently only Target and Walmart).
The catch is that you need to have the correct item code for the particular store that you're searching. For Target this is their DCPI number and for Walmart it's just their item number. You can find all the information you need about these numbers on BrickSeek.
If you've ever worked in retail, you know that these inventory systems are never 100% accurate. But it will give you the same basic information that any employee would be able to look up either on the phone or in store.
If you don't want to try out a new site, then I will direct you to the SCL page on Facebook.
No, I don't have a robust alert system and no, I don't have any better access to retail inventory systems, but I do my best to keep you up to date.
I know that my “In-Stock Alerts” have already helped hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of you acquire rare or hard-to-find Skylanders over the years.
It may not be ideal, but it's another resource on a convenient site that you probably already check a few times a day.
Beyond all the websites and text alerts and inventory checkers though, there is a lot you can do to help yourself. This time it's all up to you. While I can give you some tips and pointers, it's up to you to take action and get the help you're looking for.
No one likes to deal with grumpy, obnoxious, or pushy people.
After working in retail for a number of years, I can tell you that retail employees do take note of which customers are friendly and/or unfriendly and there is a big difference in the service you can get.
Now I'm not saying that being nice will magically make new Skylanders appear, but most employees will be much more likely to help a friendly, patient, smiling customer.
I have heard dozens of stories of employees going the extra mile for friendly, regular customers. Get to know your local employees. Learn their names. Befriend them.
Think about it…How much more would you be willing to help one of your friends than a grouchy stranger?
Finally, realize that Skylanders are huge (now a $3 billion franchise) and everyone wants a piece of the pie.
While you're used to scouting out all the major retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy, there are many other stores that carry Skylanders.
Do not expect these stores to have a big selection, but since there are less people looking at these stores, you can sometimes stumble across some of the hard-to-find figures here.
What stores am I talking about?
Try regional stores like ShopKo and Fred Meyer. Their selection may be small, but if you get there on the right day, they stock the same figures as any other store.
Also, did you know that Walgreens carries Skylanders? Walgreens stores have a very small toy section, but Skylanders are included. Most stores only stock one case of Skylanders at a time, but once again they receive the same case assortments as other stores so they will have the hard-to-find figures at one time or another.
Quantities and selection will vary greatly depending on where you live. Stores in larger cities do tend to get larger shipments, but this also means that there are more people hunting for them.
Just because someone found new figures at a Walmart in California, this does not mean that every Walmart in the country will have them on the same day. You may have to wait another week or two.