Retail products, however, are within easy reach as they line the shelves of places like Target and Walmart. Collectors can grab blaster boxes, hanger boxes, rack packs, and other products whenever they go grocery shopping. It's convenient, but retail products make it very difficult (for the most part) to pull autographs or memorabilia cards out of. Each company - Panini, Topps, and Upper Deck - have their own retail strategy it seems, and in this post I'm going to go over some observations of each company and, hopefully, figure out which company does retail the best.
Let's start with Upper Deck. Upper Deck was once king of the card market. They had the best looking and most desired cards in all sports - baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. They have taken a huge tumble (for many nefarious reasons) and now only have a license to make hockey cards. Their retail strategy seems to be mostly centered on blaster boxes, regular and jumbo packs, and tins. Most of their retail offerings give you a taste of their product, but do not give buyers the satisfaction of getting a hit from their purchase.
My all-time least favorite retail product has got to be Artifacts. Artifacts blasters are notorious for giving the buyer virtually nothing but base cards. Sure, you can usually find a numbered card or two in a blaster, but that's it. You get a small stack of nice looking Artifacts cards but that's it. These blasters retail for twenty dollars. If you want to throw your money away, but one of these.
The best Upper Deck product to buy at retail are their Series One and Two blasters. Though getting a hit is quite difficult, at least you are guaranteed two Young Gun cards. Young Guns are quite popular rookie cards and hold surprising value for the big name rookies of the year. There are a million copies of Young Gun rookie cards out there, but their popularity remains high for hockey fans. That's lucky for Upper Deck as they can produce these cards easily and cheaply since they don't need to have them autographed or embedded with memorabilia.
Upper Deck also puts out retail blasters of brands like O-Pee-Chee, MVP, and a select few other mid-tier products, but they are mostly unremarkable. Sadly, in my opinion Upper Deck comes in last when it comes to producing retail products.
As I've begun collecting baseball cards again, I've purchased quite a few Topps products at the retail level. I would put Topps ahead of Upper Deck in the retail market space, but behind Panini by quite a margin. Topps has a slew of products at the retail level, with many products offering retail exclusive content.
Having retail exclusive cards is great for the hobby as it gives collectors an incentive to buy cards at the big retail stores. Topps puts quite a few retail exclusive parallels and inserts at the retail level. One recent example are hanger packs. Gypsy Queen hangers have 3 retail packs as well as a special 3-card pack of green parallels. Topps hanger packs contain a special colored insert card. Blaster boxes of the standard Topps release have recently had a high quality manufactured memorabilia card. This year you can get an embedded metallic MLB logo card. Last year they had USA flag patches. They might not have huge value associated with them, but they look quite nice and regular consumers will enjoy these nicely designed cards.
Though Topps does give retail purchasers some special content, finding memorabilia and autographed cards is still a difficult task. In fact, if you take a look at the odds on the backs of Topps retail packs, they can seem astronomical to get a hit like an autograph. I'd say getting a hit from Topps is on par with that of Upper Deck. The hits are definitely in there, but you'll be buying lots of products before you actually pull something out.
I do want to mention that Topps also sells complete sets and larger format retail products too. The complete sets contain special cards that you can only get there. It's a step in the right direction for Topps as they now have products that give more incentive for collectors to go and purchase.
Panini is the best of the lot when it comes to purchasing cards at retail. Like Topps, Panini has a slew of retail exclusive content - usually in radical parallel designs. Look at a Panini retail offering and you'll see that there are often one or two special parallel cards within it. Collectors who enjoy a bounty of colorful and shiny cards will get their fill with Panini.
Panini's blasters are great. Many of their blasters cost the same as their Topps and Upper Deck counterparts except that they contain hits in them. When Panini made NHL hockey cards, I would often select a Panini blaster over an Upper Deck one because I was guaranteed to get a hit (usually a jersey card) in it. It was awesome knowing that there was something to look forward to finding when buying a Panini product. Panini has continued this with their baseball, football, and basketball products.
And aside from just having blasters, hanger boxes, and packs, Panini has products that a hobby-like in their nature. One example of this are the Mega Boxes for sale. Mega boxes are pricier - often around $40 or so - but contain a hit and more cards. It's like you're getting a hobby product at the store. This option is great collectors who want more out of their retail purchases. In fact, many collectors seek out these Mega Boxes as their content is just that good. The secondary market for Mega Boxes is quite hot at the moment.
Currently, Panini makes basketball, football, and unlicensed baseball cards. They are doing a tremendous job at giving collectors a reason to purchase cards at the retail level. I know many hockey collectors miss Panini's hockey cards. I'm definitely in that camp. Their willingness to innovate is something that I really appreciated.
So if you're on the hunt for some cards and you're wondering what company's cards to get. I would first look towards Panini, then Topps, and then Upper Deck. I hope this article is helpful to you as you continue on your hobby journey! Please let me know your thoughts and opinions on retail products. I'd love to hear them!