The launch of the 2014 four-coin Kennedy half dollar 50th anniversary set on October 28 went much more smoothly than most people had expected it to go. Some buyers encountered minor issues when placing orders, but the vast majority said the process was much quicker and easier than it had been during any other major product launch. Many said it took just a minute or less.
The Mint, which announced on October 29 that during the first twelve hours of sales 85,670 sets were sold online and through phone operations, or 28.5% of the product limit of 300,000 units, notified numismatic editors that it had received “overwhelmingly positive reaction by our customers regarding our new online catalog and order management system. We’ve always expressed our dedication to customer service, and the new e-Commerce website’s performance during one of the year’s most highly anticipated product launches is proof of that commitment.”
The Mint, which is one the country’s top 100 online retailers, also provided some other statistics from opening day: “As of 12:10 p.m., the site processed at 14 orders per second. By day’s end the number peaked to 24.9 orders per second.
- By 12:30 p.m., the system processed approximately $3.6 million in sales and 36 thousand units sold.
- From noon to midnight yesterday (October 28), sales of the Kennedy set totaled 85,670 units.
- Between 12:00 p.m. – 1:00p.m., the online catalog handled more than 272,000 page views.
- As of 8:30 p.m., approximately 14,000 orders had been shipped from the distribution center.”
It was especially noteworthy that:
1.) the new site could clearly handle high-volume traffic much better than the Mint’s previous retail site and
2.) that for the first time ever to my knowledge orders began shipping within hours of being received.
In fact, even buyers who selected budget shipping had their orders shipped the same day in many cases, and if they purchased three or more sets their orders were upgraded for free to 2-day UPS delivery.
For those buyers and especially dealers interested in having sets graded this means no headaches as in the past about whether the coins will arrive in time for first strike and early release eligibility. Given the fact that it will cost individual submitters approximately $200 per set to have them graded after including all fees and shipping costs, and that one is gambling on grades especially since most people are unable to distinguish a 69 from a 70 even with magnification, I personally would recommend buying an already graded set rather than playing the submission game in this case.
I contacted the Mint’s Michael White in the Office of Public Affairs regarding the last minute decision to announce a 300,000 product limit for this set last week. He explained that Mint officials felt this was important because this is a high-demand product and that the specific number was based on “the amount of material available” and the Mint’s product schedule for other coins to be released before year’s end. As far as the nomenclature of product rather than mintage limit, I asked if this meant the Mint could issue the same coins in another format, and Mr. White said there are no plans to do that.
With respect to glitches encountered by buyers when ordering on the first day, the most significant one concerned the household limit of five sets. If a buyer broke up an order for five sets into multiple orders, they were told they had reached the limit before they had actually done so. Many buyers reported this on several coin blogs. The problem appears to have been resolved by the second day.
There were also some people who encountered issues depending on the type of browser they use to access the Mint’s site, and some reported having problems agreeing to the terms and conditions during the ordering process.
The number of sets sold was seen by many people as rather disappointing, and it was a smaller number than I expected. Several factors may explain why this happened. One is that knowing 180,000 sets were ready to be shipped some buyers may have decided to wait until after the first day rush to order. Second, there was most likely not much speculative demand for these sets after what happened with the gold half dollars, which a lot of people lost money on.
We will need to see how sales proceed in the coming days and weeks before a lot of conclusions can be drawn. But for now I would first reiterate my long-standing view that all the Kennedy anniversary products are best seen as collectibles to be enjoyed because you like the coins, not as an investment or money maker.
Many people have compared this set to the American silver eagle sets issued in 2012 and 2013. But in my view a more apt comparison in some respects may be the 2006 20th anniversary American silver eagle sets. Those sets had a similar mintage level (250,000), were priced at the same amount ($100), and sold out in about ten days. They also included the first reverse proof silver eagles, and the JFK sets include the first reverse proof and enhanced uncirculated Kennedy halves.
The 2006 sets have done very well. After peaking about six months after release at over $500, they dropped to half that and then settled in at about $350, which is where they remain today. But the modern coin market was less saturated with Mint products at that point, and the economy was stronger.
For those reasons I do not expect the Kennedy sets to perform like the 2006 sets did in the short-term at least.
They may not sell out at all. It is quite possible production will be halted with the initial run of 180,000 units. And if the sets fail to sell even the 180,000 units ready now, that will likely depress values at least for a while. But with time a smaller mintage will support higher values.
Enjoy your coins, and I think if you are patient, down the road you will be happy you purchased an extra set or sets to sell when the moment is right.
But the most important takeaway from the launch in my view is that the Mint got this one right. Just think how much better collecting modern U.S. coins will be in the future if other major product releases go this well.