Scalper's Paradise: How Sold Out Products are Hurting Nintendo

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Have you or someone you love been disappointed by the scant supply of Nintendo products over the past few months? In addition to the West coast port strike, which Nintendo recently confirmed has delayed shipments of certain products, I’d wager that Nintendo has been producing fewer products in general as a cost-cutting measure meant to boost short-term profits and please investors. Though Nintendo has returned to overall profitability of late, sluggish Wii U and 3DS sales could quickly drop them back into the red. Therefore, playing it safe with inventory seems like a smart move. And to be fair, they’re selling every single GameCube adapter, special edition New 3DS, and non-Mario amiibo they make. So sure, you’re out of luck, but all of this is good news for Nintendo, right?

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Meanwhile, in heaven...

Wrong. Why? Because frustrating your most loyal customers is never good for business. “Good business” isn’t simply about making a sales - it involves forging relationships with your consumers. Scalpers, however aren’t looking for a relationship; they’re looking for a quick turnaround. They’re not loyal to your company, but rather the pot of Paypal gold at the end of the eBay rainbow. In this way, every sale to a scalper is a missed opportunity. Sure, Nintendo makes a dollar now, but what does it give up in return?

How many times have you heard someone say, “Nintendo’s greatest strength is its wealth of original IP?” More than once, I’ll bet. And, to be clear, that’s absolutely true. There are plenty of developers that make great games and never achieve the sales numbers that Nintendo has enjoyed relatively consistently for almost three decades. Nintendo’s games aren’t necessarily better, but consumers have become attached to its IP over that time span. For many adult fans, their first foray into video games involved passing an NES controller back and forth between friends to beat Super Mario Bros. For others, it was sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night to finish A Link to the Past. For me, it was playing Wario Land in the back seat of my family’s minivan. Regardless of the game or the circumstances, we formed an attachment to the brand and a relationship with Nintendo.

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Not the Moon Tears I had in mind

Back to my question: what is Nintendo giving up in return for a quick sale? Two things, potentially: either an existing customer or a would-be fan. If you’re like me and reached Platinum Club Nintendo status for 2015 three years ago (please help me) you’re not going to cut ties with the company just because you can’t find a Wii Fit Trainer amiibo anywhere. But maybe, ever so slowly, you’ll buy fewer Nintendo products each year. For example, I had been on the fence about the New 3DS ever since its announcement (and by on the fence I mean I’ve done a moderately successful job convincing myself I won’t buy it). A few days ago, however, I caved and decided to purchase one online… except I couldn’t. After the frustration of searching for amiibo in stores, I’m not about to do the same for a $200 system I’m buying more on a whim than out of necessity. So, ultimately, maybe I don’t buy a New 3DS… and I don’t buy Xenoblade Chronicles 3D… and I don’t buy Ironfall Invasion… Do you see where I’m going with this?

Moreso than the loyalists, however, I’m concerned about the potential Nintendo fanatics that may never exist. Imagine, if you will, that you’re an 8-year-old kid in the video games section of Toys ‘R Us. What do you see? Three rows of Skylanders, two rows of Disney Infinity, and one shelf of amiibo (well, Mario amiibo, if we’re being realistic). Why in the world would you choose Nintendo over another brand that presents you with
infinitely (pun intended) more options? Would you choose Mario over Woody and Mickey and Elsa and Aladdin and Spider-Man and Groot? If 8-year-old you is anything like 8-year-old me, then the answer is no. Or what if you love playing Smash Bros. as Captain Falcon but can’t find his amiibo anywhere? Well, that’s a missed opportunity for Nintendo to strengthen a consumer connection.

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"Please understand."

Today’s video game market presents consumers with significantly more options than it did back in 1985. As a result, Nintendo’s brand is more important now than ever before. Brand attachment, however, depends on brand recognition. Standing out in today’s video game crowd is, of course, challenging, but it’s impossible if you’re not actually in the crowd. Furthermore, the negative experience of purchasing Nintendo products should never overshadow the positive experiences derived from those products. Hopefully, as Nintendo’s profits slowly inch upward, we’ll start seeing a more reliable supply of inventory and fewer pages of eBay offerings.

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Have you experienced inventory shortages related to the Big N?
Share your thoughts - and frustrations - in the comments below!
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