I'm not stranger to polybags - if you've read two of my other blog posts about my personal attempts to reach ebay powerseller status, you'll know that a significant part of my strategy was accruing more total sales via small sets, i.e., polybags. I've spent a fair bit of time looking both online and in brick and mortar stores for some of these little guys. Like Pokemon, sometimes I just want to catch them all, although TLG makes this difficult by releasing an almost literal ton of them per year. Plenty of other sites highlight polys for a given year, but those sights are not as interested as I (we) am in not only what is available, but more importantly, what can I (we) sell them for.
I'm sure - sure - that I'll miss some that were not widely released, or were only released to people with access to Google Glasses or to those who worship the Macks, but I aim to tackle the majority. After a listing of the polybags released this year, I'd like to take a stab at guesstimating what makes certain bags profitable and certain bags saggy and worthless on the secondary market. Before hunting them all down and doing some research, I had some ideas on what were the hot sellers, but even I had a couple of surprises along the way. Since they are so widely available at different times throughout the year, it may behoove even an experienced LEGO jockey to give it a read. Also, instead of flaming me in the comments section if I missed a polybag, let me know and I'll see about editing the post to include it. Even my daughter's books teach that everybody poops...er, makes mistakes.
*NOTE* Promotional items like ComicCon figures, Brickmaster sets, monthly LEGO builds and such have not been included. While doing some research, if it didn't look like a somewhat widely available polybag I skipped it, which was necessary because I still have what feels like a gazillion polybags to research. I also am sure I read on Brickset about a couple of polybags that were available that I can't find in the Brickpicker database, one being a toy soldier that was included in a magazine (Danish magazine?) but disregarded it because, c'mon, what does Denmark have to do with LEGO? (Yes, that's a joke) .
You can change the table settings easily to see all at once, if you'd prefer. The default is set to ten polys per page, I think.
That took substantially longer than I though it would, but I think I've gained some fairly useful insight into the world of polybags.
First, people be crazy! I consistently - consistently - see polybag auction sales that are anywhere from 25-75% less than Buy It Now auction prices. Granted, while looking at hundreds and hundreds of recent sold listings I didn't read each description but even spending five minutes researching as I have you'll see this immediately. This is useful for two reasons; 1) If you are selling, please use BIN (as long as your BIN is not a totally ridiculous price) and, 2) If you are looking for a particular polybag, wait for auctions and bid low on a few auctions. It seems that some folks are getting a poly for $2.25 while others are paying $9.99 for a BIN auction literally on the same day! With a little patience and persistence I'd wager you can get your desired poly cheaper than a lot of the BIN prices and Brickpicker AVG prices you see.
Next, timing is almost everything. A couple examples on the negative side: The Robin and Cycle polybag was originally only in Canada during a TRU promotion. These featured a popular theme, had a cool minifig, and were selling for more than double their current rate. Sadly, like many non-exclusive LEGO S&H polybags, they ended up on shelves in TRUs in the USA and in days the price tumbled to where it is now. I remember when folks on Brickpicker forums were asking us Canucks to send them one for $25 or $30! The Clone Lieutenant SW poly is another fine example - at first his availability was very limited and he was selling for a fortune (Brickpicker says people were paying over $100 for him at one point) but soon he became widely available and dropped to a more reasonable level. Lesson: if a polybag is exclusive to one promotion/country it is likely it may become available further down the line more widely and your potential profits start to disappear. If you do get your hands on something good, keep a close eye on the forums and LEGO-related websites. If rumors come of your big money set showing up elsewhere, better unload quickly.
On the positive side of timing, for S&H exclusives, it seems the time to buy them is immediately. Items like the Hot Dog Cart, VW Camper and others experienced a glut on the secondary market during and right after their promotional use. I'm quite certain you could have grabbed a few VW's for half of their current price if you were crafty and patient. (remember to look for auctions, not BIN, for the most part, unless someone has posted a crazy BIN in a drunken stupor)
Lastly, exclusives seems to do the best. By that, I mean exclusive sets that are from S&H, either for sale or from promotions. Granted, they do best on total sale prices, but the benefit of widely available sets is that large retailers can and do mark down polys like crazy. Folks on the forums are seemingly always running across some of these sets at TRU or Walmart and scooping them up for under a buck-fifty. At that price, it is tough to say no! Only looking at sale prices doesn't take into account the buy-in price.
One more tip from looking at thousands of pages of ebay data - when you do have a lot of polys, grouped packages seem to do well. Say, all three 2013 Friends polys with a solid BIN price, or the seasonal LEGO S&H polys (Spring Scene, Summer & Fall) with a nice BIN. To get a lot of polys, buy larger lots of polybags (10 or 20 bag lots) for a lower price per package right after a promotion when the market is flooded, and always poke your nose around clearance aisles. Most of the great poly deals I've heard of come from Brickpickers who just happened to be wandering around a store and saw a box of nicely priced bags.
I had a blast checking out these sets, and you really should scan the data and make your own conclusions, but I'd say the top five polys of the year, for investing (I'm not including Iron Patriot here because I don't know how anyone could accrue a sufficient amount of these for investing purposes unless they bought 20 copies of the video game), as in, I wish I had ten or more of each of these: