31 May 2008

Wii Wonder

Yes, I've joined the Wii-playing masses, mostly because my gym is about to close by the time I get out of work most days (it's a great gym, it just doesn't stay open very late). The Wii appealed because it meant I could get some light exercise in and still manage to eat supper before nine PM.

I found a console fairly quickly (thanks to my brother Steve's "fixer" mentality and expansive knowledge of downtown gaming shops), and set things up last night. Everything worked on the first try. It was weird — although I didn't like boxing as a two-player Wii game when I tried it before, I really got a kick out of pummeling the entirely-computerised avatar. I knocked out "Ryan" the generic Mii by the second round. Well, it had been a frustrating week.

I think I'm going to be pummeling more avatars if the customer service I'm getting over Wii Fit keeps up. First I tried one game store in person (that had been recommended to me). I got a fish-eyed stare and a flat "No" as a response to my enquiry. When I asked why, I got a half-baked explanation and a blow-off. I don't like overweening shop clerks, but I don't like being treated like a criminal either, just because I asked for a service the shop doesn't happen to provide.

Not a problem, I thought, I'll just back-order the thing from a big box store. Except their web site wouldn't let me. So I called customer service and asked why. The rep said that they don't allow back orders on sold-out items because it would bog down the ordering system and they would never be able to fulfill hundreds of thousands of orders (hundreds of thousands? really? for an item that few households would order more than one of, in a country with 33 million people?). Then he hung up on me.

Okay, okay, it's a scarce item, I get it, but do I have to be treated like garbage because I'm shopping for a scarce item? I do buy other electronics, after all. Can't someone say "no" politely anymore? Offer some hints on how to buy from them while working with their Byzantine system of order fulfillment?

Consumers get accused all the time of being short-sighted and needing instant gratification. Shops would do well to remember that they can come across the same way, with similarly distasteful impressions made.


  1. Wii are having fun!

    I'm trying to pull off red lipstick today almost like the colour you look so good in, but I just look clownish. You look glamourous in it!

  2. In no way am I defending the snarly clerks, but the reason you got such flat responses to your question about the Wii Fit is because you're probably the 100th person to ask about it that day.

    Every store here had huge line-ups prior to opening on the first day of sales.

    Consider also that Guitar Hero 3 for Wii is just finally starting to show up on shelves nearly a year after it's debut. Even then, I had to check 5 stores before I found one in stock last month (my retired father wanted one for his birthday).

    Also consider that 22 million Wiis have been sold worldwide. How many of those owners will want a Wii Fit? Out of five Wii owners that I know all five want a Wii Fit. Admittedly that may be the demographic I associate with, but I think it demonstrates strong support.

    Nintendo hasn't released any numbers for Wii Fit sales in North America, but they did announce that they sold 2 million in Japan during the first week. That's a lot of Wii Fits!

    Now to get to the point of my comment, imagine one online store starts accepting backorders. How long before that store is inundated with orders it can't possibly fill in a reasonable amount of time? While hundreds of thousands of orders may be a stretch, I think it's safe to say the number would be quite large.

    Then consider the impact to the online store. Ignoring the potential to crash the system with a huge influx of traffic, consider how many people are simply going to ask "when is my order going to ship?". After awhile that's going to turn to angry emails, cancellations and a big black eye for their public image.

  3. Re: back-orders -- I *did* back-order Wii Fit on-line. In fact, it's still on back-order. The web site that let me do that had a nice polite message explaining their stocking and ordering policy. When they were ready to accept back-orders, they said so, and I got a very clearly written e-mail explaining how the back-order worked. So I'm a satisified customer, and I haven't even received the item yet! The same store is currently showing as out of stock again, so they must have a cap on their back-orders. That's a reasonable way to manage order volume.

    The on-line store that I couldn't order from just left me hanging. I got as far as the "check out" page and then couldn't complete my order. The error messages I was getting didn't make it clear if the site was broken (possible, but it was a major store) or if there were some business rules not being made clear to me.

    Items with a huge demand and finite production rates are going to create scarcities. You can either handle that gracefully by communicating with customers (the store I back-ordered from) or by choking and leaving the customer to figure out themselves what happened (the first store).


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