If you’re still trying to get your hands on a Wii this Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanzaa Nintendo has a plan for you, sort of. It was recently announced that people trying unsuccessfully to get a Wii are now being greeted with a firm promise. Nintendo of America made a deal with everyone’s favorite retailer, GameStop, creating something called the “Rain Check” program.
The outlined plan is that everyone who goes into a GameStop and purchases a Wii at full price between now and the end of January will receive a certificate instead of a Wii. It will be like Nintendo’s very own Golden Ticket. Your certificate will match the Wii unit that will be tracked and shipped to the GameStop it was purchased from. Presumably this will work exactly like a pre-order from any store, but Nintendo is contending that “only this retailer can do it” referring to GameStop’s alleged ability to know which stores consumers frequent. This seems to support every GameStop employee’s smug claim to omniscience.
The plan is supposed to solve the Wii shortage problem that came just in time for the holidays. As reassurance to people considering paying more to get one now, Nintendo of America’s Reggie Fils-Aime, in a tone that reminds me of some ex-girlfriends of mine, says “If you can hold out a little bit longer, there will be more and more product available in January; we are not slowing down." I'm not sure what he could possibly mean by slowing down, it's difficult to imagine anything slower than their current pace. Fils-Aime continues the lip-service by saying “When will we meet demand? There's no way to answer that question until we actually meet it."
The rain check will be available until January 29, 2008, meaning that children across America won’t be unwrapping a big box containing a Wii this holiday season, but instead will find an envelope with a certificate saying they will be getting a Wii sometime between Christmas and January 29. There’s no word on what happens at the end of January. The twenty-ninth is just an arbitrary date in which pre-orders, I mean “rain checks” need to be picked up from GameStop using the matching certificate. Children who will “receive” a Wii are going to be just like little Charlie Bucket arriving at the gates of the Wonka Factory only it will be later than he would have liked.
One person who does seem happy about the shortage and the “Rain Check” program is Sony’s Howard Stringer. Upon the PS3’s recent celebration of simply surviving, Sony has unleashed a flurry of claims directed at Nintendo saying their system is “infinitely more fun, demanding and exciting.” Stringer predicts that this and - oh yeah - the Wii shortage will produce big numbers for the PS3 this season allowing them to close the sales gap that is closing at a glacial speed.
What I know about business strategy can fit on the back of a matchbook, but I did see the movie Net Worth once. Only once, I swear. Despite my lack of background in the business arts, it strikes me that the entire shortage is either a carefully manipulated scheme where oodles of lost Wiis will suddenly appear on doorsteps across America in a Christmas miracle brought to you by Nintendo, or it is a serious oversight that can only be explained by Nintendo’s appointment of Sloth as the head of marketing research. To hear Fils-Aime address the problem Here he makes it sound like the later.
The contention that Nintendo of America didn’t account for the system’s popularity is absurd. The Wii has proven that it is very popular with gamers and non-gamers alike in its first year and could not have possibly expected holiday sales to remain the same or slower than they had been since release. It has just become a huge problem that should have been solved long ago.
The “Rain Check” program isn’t a solution to the holiday shortage. It’s a promise in place of a present.