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Nintendo HellNintendo Hell

A cautionary tale

November 17, 2008

4 Min Read
Nintendo Hell

6:00 PM -- Something to think about now that holiday season is upon us, some of you may be doing your holiday shopping, and others might be on the product side where you are thinking about operations and channel strategies. So here is my sorry tale.

I've got three kids, they wanted a Wii way back when. I didn't even find one when the Wii first launched. I started looking a few months later, and then spent almost a year trying to find a Wii in retail channels or online, continually tracking a site called www.xpbargains.com that had a Wii link crawler, visiting and calling stores for months, and philosophically refusing to pay over retail through the "secondary market." I finally got a Wii this summer, when I hit a link for a Costco Wii bundle that had just been active for about 90 seconds. I bought it, even though I don't feel spending my money should be like trying to win a contest on a call-in radio station, but I bought it anyway.

Then the wife wanted a Wii Fit… same process… visiting Fry's, visiting Circuit City, stopping by the electronics section at Target, each time asking the sales staff about availablitity of both Wii Consoles and Wii Fits -- and, over time, getting way more personally involved and pissed off then I had any right to be. For crying out loud, the Wii Fit is an accessory -- don't make people struggle to buy it. I was at Target yesterday, and they said they get a few Wii Fits every few weeks.

So, as someone who has been a part of designing and making tech products, and as someone who is also an enthusiastic consumer of this stuff, I hit my wall. So, I finally wrote the following email to Nintendo's customer service last week:

  • Dear Nintendo:

    I am a parent with three kids, all young. It took me almost a year to locate and obtain my first Wii, and now it's the same idiotic search for a Wii Fit. I have a busy life, and I think Nintendo is pathetic in its desire to manage demand and keep its product out of stock everywhere.

    I've worked in high-tech for 25 years, including multiple manufacturing businesses, so it is very clear that this is a corporate strategy to stretch out your consumers till time immemorial. To go two years out of stock is either (1) a deliberate strategy; or (2) incompetent operations processes. And from a marketing standpoint to not have a "waiting list" or "rain check" strategy for your consumers is just another indication of Nintendo's lack of concern for the perceptions (let along the time wasted) of its consumer base.

    However, this won't work, others will come out with haptic-type devices, and customers like me, who would have been loyal, and my kids, who would have kept on using Nintendo, will abandon you folks forever. And then, whoever in your executive staff who has made the decisions to abuse your customer base for almost two years will, hopefully, lose their jobs.

    I am someone that loves innovation, and wanted nothing but to be a long-term and loyal Nintendo customer, but like millions of others out there, your company is trying its best to blow it.

I think Nintendo is a cautionary tale for anyone in tech, one that will be a case study, and one that I don't think will end well in the long term for them. Yeah, they have stretched this into a great run for years, but bottom line is that they have a cool UI that someone will do one up on. I bought the product, I own the product, but the decisions they have make in their operations and channel strategy make me want to find alternatives as soon as possible.

My opinion. Don't make a business strategy out of screwing your customers. It might help you to manage your brand (e.g., Wii as "aspirational"); it may help you manage your financials in the short to intermediate term; but you can't screw your customers and potential customers for years and expect to get away with it. There are too many bright people out there who will develop a substitute for what you have that will be even better.

So, the sad bottom line is that I'll probably still try to find a Wii Fit, as the wife wants one, but as soon as I can end my relationship with Nintendo, they will never get another dime from me, and my kids will probably end up not buying any Nintendo products once they are teenagers.

P.S. Nintendo Customer Service sent back a very professional mail responding to my mail, commiserating with me, saying they were sorry, and offering options if I call them. Nice, but too late.

Anybody out there have similar sorry tales?

— Jeff Belk is a principal at ICT168 Capital LLC, focused on developing and guiding global growth opportunities in the Information and Communication Technology space. He can be reached at [email protected]. Special to Unstrung

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