Does the US Mint play favorites with coin dealers?

Over the last few weeks, the US Mint used tried-and-true marketing techniques to generate interest in their American Eagle Silver coins – limited time offer, limited quantities, etc. Last Thursday, October 27, the US Mint offered their 25th anniversary American Eagle Silver Coin Set of five coins. Remembering five years ago, their 20th anniversary set with three American Eagle Silver coins was also a popular set.

Those marketing techniques worked. A buying frenzy started on the US Mint’s web site as soon as the five-coin sets became available. Some buyers enjoyed success; others watched a blank browser screen for their order never to be accepted.

In their resulting frustration, some people believe the US Mint favors coin dealers when they offer these limited-availability sets.

That’s just not true.

Many coin dealers accessed the US Mint’s ordering site beginning at noon when the American Eagle Silver Coin five-coin sets first became available.

They weren’t successful either. The coin dealer bulletin boards were full of story after story of failed orders.

Now, perhaps people think the US Mint plays favorites with coin dealers because the bullion American Eagle silver coins are only available through coin dealers. But, even then, not all coin dealers have access to those bullion coins. And no, the US Mint does not favor the coin dealers who do order the bullion coins for these types of special American Eagle sets.

In the case of the American Eagle 25th anniversary set where some individuals and coin dealers were successful and some were not, the US Mint’s real favoritism may be to internet browsers.

This speculation is the result of an accidental experiment.

After three hours of trying to place an order for the American Eagles on two separate computers running Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, neither system had passed the blank “working” screen. A technical, but non-numismatic, friend agreed to help by using two of his computers to access the US Mint’s ordering system.

Like the previous two three-hour computers, one of his computers used Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Another used Google’s Chrome internet browser. His Microsoft IE got stuck, but the Google Chrome gained access immediately.

Now, does this mean the Chrome browser performed better? Or, does it mean the Chrome session just happened to hit a split-second opportunity into the US Mint’s ordering system?

Perhaps it’s a mix of the two. The accidental experiment was interesting but not sufficient to draw conclusions.

If you tried to order the new five-coin sets and were not successful, you are by no means alone. Many people including coin dealers are frustrated with the US Mint’s ordering system.

With today’s technology, we think about how easy it is to order from companies, like Amazon, from the comfort of our homes. We get frustrated when the ordering process is just not that easy on the US Mint’s web site.

But, as one coin dealer commented, “Why should the US Mint beef up their ordering system for one or two big days per years?”

The frustrated answer is that technology is cheap these days, relatively speaking. The US Mint should be able to increase their capabilities just prior to their big ordering days and decrease the technology back to normal levels afterwards. Making the buying process easier makes for a happier customer base and an increase in overall sales.

The technology to do that exists and has existed for several years. It’s not free, but it’s not that expensive either.

On the other hand, the US Mint is part of the US Government. The US Government has a myriad of rules and policies for purchasing anything including technology.

When you think about all of the administrative hoops the US Mint would have to jump through or go around to increase their capabilities for a couple of peak buying days, you can begin to understand why they don’t.

Yes, we are their customer, and they should make it easy for us. But, through our tax dollars, we also pay their wages, buy their equipment and procure their utilities.

From a taxpayer’s point of view, an increase in technology for their ordering site would include additional employees and time, more computing servers for the ordering system and increased telecommunications channels – at a minimum.

How much would all of that cost? For a corporation, it could be in the low six digits. For the government, it would probably be upper six digits, if not over a million dollars.

When you put it like that, a taxpayer can tolerate a little frustration!

Were coin dealers favored by the US Mint?

No, absolutely not.

Were internet browsers favored by the US Mint’s technology?

That’s not known, but it sure raises a good question.

Before the next big US Mint marketing blitz, it would be a good idea to add Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox browsers to your computer.

It could mean the difference between success and failure.

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