Today, Nintendo released the NES Classic Edition, the mini-console packed with 30 classic Nintendo Entertainment System games for a cool $59.99. Jeremy reviewed the system and called it "a great little package". The problem is picking one up. The system has been very hard to find on launch day.
Most of the major retailers - Best Buy, Target, Walmart, and GameStop - weren't allowing pre-orders of the NES Classic Edition. That meant if you wanted to get one, you had to go in store, wait in line, and hope they had enough stock to cover everyone. If you've done this rodeo with Nintendo before, you know that hope was in vain.
Instead, many stores had only a few units, which sold immediately and left a line of unhappy customers. Amazon also declined to allow pre-orders, putting "very limited quantities" of the NES Classic Edition up for sale today. They sold out rather quickly. (Amazon says they'll have a more units at 5pm EST today.)
Many of those systems have ended up on eBay, with scalpers looking to flip the systems for a quick buck. If you're going that route, you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $500 on average (some are much, much higher) for a NES Classic Edition, which again, costs just $59.99.
We've been here before with Nintendo. With the launches of the Wii, the Wii U, and Amiibo, the company is known for playing it safe with hardware shipments. Nintendo would rather not have loads of stock sitting on the shelves, as opposed to the more traditional US stocking methods of companies like Microsoft and Sony: ship as many as you have, and if some are on store shelves, that's good because it encourages impulse buying.
Nintendo isn't flying high financially and misjudging a hardware launch can be an expensive proposition. It absolutely makes sense to slowly roll out stock of the NES Classic Edition. Especially during the holiday season, where lower stock can drive consumer interest.
The problem is that lower stock can also drive consumer resentment and disengagement. There are a number of people who waited in line, only to find out they were consumer #6 for a store that only had five units. There are those looking to purchase the system as gifts, not profit-making auctions. Nintendo is advertising the system, but for an average consumer, heading to retail will only end in a clerk letting them know the system is out-of-stock. And there's a likelihood that's where their interest will stop.
I understand Nintendo's conservatism from a business standpoint, but there has to be a middle ground between being smart with your hardware stock and preventing a wide number of consumers from actually buying your system. The company has been on the wrong side of this supply-demand curve too many times, leading some to worry about Nintendo Switch stock, given a potential worldwide launch.
Nintendo has improved on its message though. One of my charges against the company during the Amiibo launch is they gave no indication that more stock was coming. Nintendo of America has already said that it's looking to roll out more NES Classic Edition stock soon.
"The Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition system is a hot item, and we are working hard to keep up with consumer demand. There will be a steady flow of additional systems through the holiday shopping season and into the new year. Please contact your local retailers to check product availability," said the company on Twitter.
That's an improvement over the previous status quo. I'm just hoping that at some point, Nintendo's manufacturing and shipping can catch up to that evolution in messaging. Otherwise, Nintendo is just going to continue making vast numbers of consumers unhappy by playing it safe.