Pre-orders for the Super NES Classic system, a diminutive remake of the original 1990 Super NES, sold out "within minutes" on GameStop's website nationwide last week, the company's senior director of merchandising tells Glixel.
"We went through a lot of pain and effort to make sure we could service our online customers," GameStop's Eric Bright says. "It wasn't perfect, but it did allow us to sell out of our initial allotment within minutes."
Bright declined to say how many of the $79.99 consoles were sold, but did say that GameStop had the number one market share for the item. GameStop will have Super NES Classics available for purchase in stores when it releases on September 29th, according to Bright, but he wouldn't say if there will be any more pre-orders for the item. "So much of that is controlled by first party."
Lots of Scarcity
While the Super NES Classic made a splash with Nintendo's handling of how it allowed pre-order to happen and how it communicated that information to fans, scarcity among gaming systems isn't exactly unusual this year.
The NES Classic, a remake of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, was also almost constantly out of stock up until Nintendo stopped manufacturing it in April. The Nintendo Switch, which launched in March, remains a hard system to find as well.
"We are constantly selling out of our weekly allocations of the Switch," Bright says. "We kind of go up and down with stock."
Bright said the popularity and scarcity of the Switch reminds him a lot of Nintendo's last massive hit: The original Wii, a console that released in 2006 and went on to sell more than 101 million units.
"Nintendo did this before with the Wii," he says. "It was highly successful and extremely hard to find. Looking at demand – I can't comment on rate of sale – demand for the Switch seems to be similar to the Wii or greater."
And it's not just Nintendo dealing with a scarcity issue. Just last week, Microsoft announced a special "Project Scorpio" edition of its upcoming Xbox One X. Pre-orders for that system sold out in record time, too.
Nintendo NES, SNES, Switch
It's been a rough year for fans of Nintendo, especially if you happen to be into the company's retro-themed gadgets. But GameStop says the recent spate of sell-outs is business as usual in an industry that thrives on special editions and collectibles.
According to Bright, the game industry actually has a long, steady relationship with not creating enough of certain items to meet demand. "Our associates are deal in the reservation game on a daily basis," he says. "It's not a seasonal activity for them. We are taking reservations every day for every year. And limited edition controllers, collectibles, they also run out. The items we're talking about today just received a lot more attention in the media."
To deal with that demand and the potential for sell-outs, Bright says the company invested a lot in building out a "click to brick" ordering system that allows people to order highly sought after items both online and in-store.
"GameStop has invested in a lot of ways to meet consumer demand," he says. "The reservation system is by far the most advanced we've seen at this point."
The retailer chain also has relationships with manufacturers and platform holders like Microsoft and Nintendo, which allows them to "get ahead of items a few months in advance with information on specific quantity," he says.
Once the company finds out about an item it thinks will be hard to keep in stock, a plan is put into place that involves everyone from logistics to shipping to marketing to notifying and training the associates who work in stores.
Increasingly, some people have been using automated software, or bots, to try and quickly purchase hard-to-find items faster than would be normally possible. Often, those items will later show up on reseller sites like eBay. It's something Bright says the company is aware of and trying to deal with.
"We have learned a lot from the frequent high demand products that we sell on Gamestop.com," Bright says. "For these items, we currently have per-customer order limits in place on top of some other actions to ensure all our customers have a fair chance to purchase the high demand products. These actions also help limit bot and reseller activity."
While hard-to-find items are almost always available to purchase on GameStop for some period of time, some of them end up in forced bundles as well. These bundles might pair an item with an accessory or a collectible with other collectibles. Bright calls it customer service.
"We really try to do a great job of paring up items with things customers like to buy," Bright says. "In the case of the Switch, we know the customer is going to want a way to charge the Joycon (controllers), so we often throw in a charging device. We know the Switch has limited memory and customers like to download games, so we'll add a memory stick. And then you need a game itself, because what good is a piece of hardware without a game to play with it? We make it more convenient."
With the Xbox One X Project Scorpio Edition, GameStop sold bundles at three different tier levels, cutting the price of some of the included items so customers would save $20 to $100, according to Bright.
When it comes to nostalgia items, like the NES Classic and Super NES Classic, GameStop created bundles that included items from ThinkGeek, a geek culture company owned by GameStop. "We put some items in the bundle from ThinkGeek.Com, retro items that would appeal to those buyers," Bright says.
The five bundles for the SNES Classic, for instance, included things like a copy of a book abut the NES Classic games, a wireless controller, a Megaman toy and the like. The bundling also inflated the price of the $79.99 device anywhere from $120 to $190 for the biggest bundle.
Bright pushed back on the idea that the bundling of those hard-to-find items was anything but customer service.
"Customers have the opportunity to come into our stores and choose the accessories that they would like to bundle with their hardware, or buy online the pre determined bundles we have put together to help make the shopping experience more convenient," he says, when asked if bundling was a way to force people to buy items they don't necessarily want. "Customers also have the option of coming to into our GameStop stores to purchase non-bundled product."