Retail Boxes vs. Hobby Boxes: What’s the Difference?

If you’re collecting sports cards for the first time, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. The trading card world is vast and diverse, and there are lots of things to choose from when you are starting out. Different sports, different brands, different sets, and of course, different terminology to wrap your head around. And when you’re ready to really invest in trading cards, one of the most important things you need to know is the difference between a retail box and a hobby box. 

On the surface, retail boxes and hobby boxes look very similar. They’re both boxes filled with packs of cards. The difference is in the cards you get. Retail boxes tend to have more common cards, while hobby boxes provide better odds at getting rare cards. But there’s value to be had in both, so it really depends on what you want to collect!


Retail Boxes

2019 Baseball Series 1 retail box.

Retail boxes have that name because they are made primarily sold in, you guessed it, retail stores! These stores often open the boxes and sell the packs individually. Hobby boxes, on the other hand, are sold strictly to hobby stores, usually kept sealed, and sold to customers as a single unit.

When it comes to pricing, retail boxes are the more affordable option of the two. This is one reason that makes them an excellent choice for newcomers! The retail packs, which come inside the retail boxes, are often offered in a variety of different formats. For example, Upper Deck Series 1 includes the following formats: blaster boxes, full-sized retail boxes, tins and the Team Triple Blaster boxes. With the amount of options available, there’s a lot of flexibility within your budget. Additionally, because they’re sold in retail stores throughout the country, retail boxes can be quite easy to locate.

Retail boxes are mostly made up of base cards. This can be a good thing if your goal is to complete the base set, but the odds of getting a special insert or parallel in a retail box are usually much lower than they are with hobby boxes. That’s why retail boxes are so much more affordable.

That being said, there are plenty of specialty cards in retail boxes. Upper Deck, for example, keeps the odds of getting the popular Young Guns rookie cards from their Upper Deck Series 1 & 2 set the same in retail and hobby boxes (1:4). And sometimes there are inserts that can only be found in retail boxes, like the caramel mini cards found only in 2019-20 O-Pee-Chee NHL retail blaster boxes. It is important to keep in mind that you still have a chance at getting some of the rare, high value cards in retail boxes. It’s just that the odds of finding them are lower than they are in hobby boxes. 

2019-20 O-Pee-Chee NHL blaster box.

There is also the concern when buying retail that an open box may have already been searched by other collectors, which is done by literally feeling the individual packs for thicker cards (like swatch cards). It is something to definitely be aware of when buying packs that are out in the open, but if you are buying a sealed box from a hobby store, it should be safe from having been searched. Some retail stores will lock even the individual packs in a cabinet to make sure nothing can be searched beforehand.

If your goal is to strictly increase your odds of scoring more specialty cards, we may recommend hobby boxes. But if you’re looking to open a lot of packs and complete your base set at an affordable price, retail boxes are a fantastic option.


Hobby Boxes

2019-20 Upper Deck Series 1 hobby box.

Hobby boxes give you increased odds at scoring rare specialty cards, like coloured parallels, relic cards, autographed cards, and other specialty inserts that you can’t get in retail boxes. You also have a larger selection of card sets to choose from with hobby boxes, as not all sets are sold in retail versions. Upper Deck, for example, only releases Synergy, Black Diamond, Trilogy, and Chronology hockey cards in hobby boxes.

The increased odds at getting specialty cards comes with a higher cost. Hobby boxes are, for the most part, more of an investment than retail boxes – with price tags going as high as $1000. For example, Upper Deck’s The Cup costs $600 and contains only six cards, which may sound crazy, but those six cards are going to be rare and potentially quite valuable. While your return on investment is never guaranteed with trading cards, your odds are often better with hobby boxes than they are with retail boxes.

2019-20 The Cup.

Because Hobby Boxes are limited to hobby stores and resellers, they can often be more difficult to get your hands on. If you don’t live near a hobby shop, then you either need to travel or order your hobby box online. At Zephyr Epic, we want to make hobby boxes accessible to all Canadians, which means all hobby boxes ship free anywhere in Canada. And if you’re trying to get the highest value cards, of course, then there is no alternative. Hobby boxes are for you!


In Conclusion

At first glance, retail boxes and hobby boxes may look almost identical. They can be from the same sport, the same brand, even the same set, yet there’s a world of difference between them. So what’s the best option? That’s up to you! Trading card companies want to ensure there are choices for all kinds of collectors. There’s value to find in both retail and hobby boxes. We recommend that you consider the pros and cons to both options in order to find the set that works best for you. Once you make your decision it’s time to start collecting!

Which type of box has best served your collection? Leave a comment and let us know!

Click here to shop retail boxes.

Click here to shop hobby boxes.