One of my favorite places to buy and sell cards is COMC.com. Since my return to the hobby in late 2015, I’ve relied on the site to fill my personal collection needs, and to sell my extra cards to other collectors. COMC has grown and evolved since its inception, and I was curious if those continued changes were having the desired results.
I had the privilege of sitting down with the COMC Founder and CEO, Tim Getsch, at the 2019 National in Chicago. We covered a variety of topics including the company’s growth and evolution, the Upper Deck e-Pack partnership, and some potential enhancements to the site.
WaxPackHero: I joined the site in late 2015. It’s my understanding the name used to be CheckOutMyCards.com. What prompted the change to COMC.com?
Tim: When we started, people immediately began using the acronym COMC on forums because it’s so long to type out check out my cards. Then back during the recession, the COMC domain became available and we wanted to jump at the opportunity to get a four letter domain. Then we started a rebrand which allowed the platform to have the potential to do more than cards. For example the letter “C” could stand for so many things: Cards, Coins, Comics, Collectibles. If we were going to invest in a brand, we wanted it to give us the opportunity to potentially do other things.
WaxPackHero: So the site has been operating with its current model since 2007. Today, there are over 4.3 million unique cards generating a total inventory of over 25 million total cards in your facilities. Can you give us some perspective on how the company has grown in that time from an employee perspective?
Tim: When we came to the National in 2007, there were two of us working at COMC. Within a year we had about five full time employees, and now we have a little over 100. There were periods where we doubled in size, and others where he held steady, but overall it’s been a gradual incline to where we are today.
WaxPackHero: Can you share the volume of cards being submitted and shipped at this point?
Tim: Right now we’re receiving between 90-100K cards per week. About 70K cards are going out. That number does not include any of the cards processed through our relationship with Upper Deck, it’s purely the customer consignments.
WaxPackHero: As you’ve led through the growth you’ve described, what would you say has been the most challenging aspect of leading that team from 2 - 100?
Tim: My passion and expertise is more on the technology side, but going from two people to 100 requires a lot of non-technical stuff. So I’m very fortunate to have an amazing team to help support it all, and that’s been absolutely critical to us having any chance to process these five million cards customers are sending us every year. The hardest challenge has been managing our growth so that we can have systems in place to hire people, train them, and handle the new volume that is coming in and the volume that is going out.
There are a ton of things we could do to send more traffic to the site and get more people to consign with us. However, we need to be able to provide good service when that business gets here. It’s a very niche expertise and there aren’t a ton of people who have that knowledge. In fact, right now one of our biggest challenges to ensure we have a scalable solution which would allow us to potentially 10x our business, is to hire people outside of the Seattle area who are set up to work just as efficiently as the employees in our Redmond office. Right now, there are certain things you have to be in Redmond to do efficiently at our current service levels.
WaxPackHero: With so many moving parts, efficiently designed processes have to be foundational to your success. What do you do as a company to assure you are continually renewing processes and finding new and better ways to do things?
Tim: I look at some things personally, but it is important that part of our culture is everyone looking for ways to do things better. For example, we track how long it’s taking to do our tasks so we can identify possible opportunities for improvement. Here’s an example of a recent process improvement. Historically, we included paper invoices with all our orders. All that paper is waste. Well, recently our printers went down and our service provider wasn’t going to be able to get them fixed in time for us to send out our priority shipments. That prompted us to roll out a new feature we’ve been working on which involves sending a receipt with a QR code which you can scan on your phone to see the full invoice instead of printing and mailing all that paper. I think we’re estimating that change will save us about $50K a year.
WaxPackHero: What do you feel is unique about COMC that has contributed to its success so far?
Tim: Having things under one roof is absolutely the foundation. The ability to combine all orders with consistent quality, and have a reliable, low cost shipping option are very important to what sets us apart. The option for buyers to make a purchase and take months, if not years, to actually have the order shipped is something no one else does. Also, a customer’s ability to buy and sell on the site without ever having to take physical possession of the item is unique.
Another key is the catalog we use. Everything we list uses that exact catalog. Sometimes on eBay or Amazon you see can see the same card listed 15 different ways, or sometimes different cards are listed the same way. When you are searching for something on our site, you know it will be that exact card you are looking for. We may have errors from time to time which we correct, but our goal is that everything is very organized.
WaxPackHero: How big is the typical order from COMC?
Tim: The typical order on Amazon and eBay is about two cards per package. On COMC, an anonymous user who doesn’t even have an account has an average order of ten cards. If you have an account, that average goes to 40 cards.
WaxPackHero: One of the changes over the last couple years is eBay integration. Can you describe the process used to determine which cards will be listed and which won’t be?
Tim: We’ve had a number of different algorithms we’ve used based on eBay’s rules and how we’ve structured our fees. In the past we required sellers to opt in and subsequently pay the eBay and Amazon commissions. So, if you didn’t opt in, you didn’t get any eBay or Amazon exposure. One of the things we wanted to change is to allow sellers to just focus on setting competitive prices. We have over four million listings! We want to list everything we can on eBay. We list the cheapest copy we have, and if we’ve sold enough copies over the last year, we’ll list more. If it’s a hot card, we’ll list ten at the most.
WaxPackHero: How do you factor in competitive pricing? For instance sometimes, COMC sellers will have the only copy of a card on the site and will price it high to try and take advantage of that fact?
Tim: Yeah, that seller probably won’t get a sale if it isn’t competitive.
WaxPackHero: Can you discuss how cards listed on COMC for less that .99 are handled on eBay? Some sellers didn’t like how COMC would keep the difference between their COMC asking price and .99. More recently, low priced cards on COMC had “very high” asking prices on eBay due to the costs associated with offering free shipping.
Tim: When we put things on eBay and Amazon there is a lot of extra customer service costs associated. When we first added Amazon, we received customer service requests ten times more frequently on those orders then standard COMC orders. So a seller said they wanted a nickel for one of these cards. We found a buyer, and that seller will get their nickel. We make a little extra margin which helps offset some of those additional customer service expenses.
As far as the embedded shipping, that was based on on a recommendation by eBay. Their SEO favors things that have free shipping so they heavily encouraged us to do that. We’re leaning on taking a step back from that because we’ve noticed our average order size dropped from 2.5 cards per order to 2. If you have a card with free shipping, why continue to look at the sellers port? With our normal shipping of about $4, there is an incentive to look and potentially add another card or two.
Based on recent eBay feedback, we’re considering experimenting with offering some kind of shipping promotions. Something along the lines of: buy four cards and get free shipping. We want to encourage people to purchase more cards per order. We’re going to try things and continue to tweak them.
WaxPackHero: At the beginning of the year, new changes were introduced to the commission structure, security and storage fees, amongst others. Have those changes had the impact you were hoping for?
Tim: Yes! The fees had the consequences we wanted. Our total consignments and average value of consignments are going the direction we want. We have heard very few complaints from people actually incurring the security fee. One benefit of the higher storage fee is it caused people to think more about pricing their cards more competitively. We don’t want people camping out with a card at $500 which is really worth $2. We don’t want customers looking at a site with $500 cards where half of them are overpriced. If a seller is going to price like that, they are going to have to pay a little extra. So the fee incentivized the behavior we want, while at the same time it does actually cover the cost we have to pay to insure the inventory.
WaxPackHero: As a seller, I’m vested in COMC’s continued growth and success. Can you share your customer acquisition strategy?
Tim: We’ve been working on our marketing and social media strategy. We’ve been working another marketing company to look for opportunities that make sense and have good ROI. We’re trying to better connect our sales and site traffic to the source. For example, we want to know if we’re getting a return from supporting a blog, or podcast, or keyword ads. So one of the features I’ll likely be working on this fall is the ability to better attribute sales to the source that helped generate them. That will help us determine where we are getting the best ROI on our marketing spend and give us a platform for giving “kickbacks” for people who are generating quality traffic. That brings in the opportunity for the affiliate program we referenced last fall.
WaxPackHero: The Upper Deck e-Pack program was a pretty innovative concept and partnership, how has that program performed compared to your expectations?
Tim: It’s been a fun, great relationship with Upper Deck. One of the benefits we’ve seen since that relationship started was the level of trust it gave us in the marketplace. Questions about whether or not a consignor could trust us with their items pretty much went away when it was clear Upper Deck trusted us handing all their e-Pack inventory. Also, when anyone wants to take possession of their e-Pack cards, they create a COMC account. We’ve seen a ton of people become COMC users and buy other things off the COMC platform in addition to their e-Pack cards. We actually launched Upper Deck and eBay the same year and they both generated about the same bump in users and new business.
WaxPackHero: Some would say e-Pack has devalued Upper Deck Cards because we see so many .02 and .03 e-Pack cards on the site. Has there been any conversation about whether or not that is something you and Upper Deck are ok with? Is there potential for any kind of promotion to help clear some of that inventory?
Tim: There are a couple things we’re talking with Upper Deck about that are under consideration. There are certain sets where we could possible offer a discount if a user completed a set. So right now customers pay a .25 per card embedded “handling” fee when they buy single cards. In this case, we could have a certain number of sets already compiled so we would only have to grab a set and not each card separately when someone places one of those orders. That would allow us to offer some kind of discount. Overall, we’ve generally tried to not affect the market. Upper Deck is ok with saying “apparently the market for some of these cards is only a few cents”. We’ve considered a few other things, but at this point they don’t seem to have overall benefits for our customers.
WaxPackHero: Are there other potential future enhancements that you are considering rolling out?
Tim: So we have an app in Beta, and only a few of us have it installed at this point. We want to do more with it, but right how here’s how we’re testing it. I have a list of players I’m following. I get notified when a new card of one of those players hits the site. Also, when I access the site through the app, there is functionality which tells me if I already own the card or not.
We are building something we’re referring to as “the registry” where you can declare what you have and also what you want, and then you’d be able to use the app to track what you have and what you still need. A natural iteration to that functionality would be for a user to say they want multiple copies and what price they are willing to pay for them.
It also opens up potential for us to better educate sellers on what people are looking for. Basically, we want sellers to send in cards that buyers are looking for. At the next National, I would love it if our customers were using some combination of our app and website to actually find out what cards they need. Then in conjunction with that, I want to publish the data on what other people want so our sellers know what to buy and send in to help meet that need. It’s better for everybody!
WaxPackHero: I can’t wait to try it out. Thanks again fo the opportunity to sit down and chat!
I learned a lot through this conversation, and it made me excited for what COMC has in store. I appreciate their willingness to innovate and test new concepts, and then use data to make decisions. To better understand how I use the site, you can read my review.
If you enjoyed this interview, you may also enjoy the conversation I had with Beau Thompson from the OneMillionCubs project.