Nintendo introduced its NES to the U.S. market way back in the fall of 1985 when it test marketed the home console in New York. It was a resounding success so in 1986 Nintendo began courting a nationwide network of retailers to carry its hot device. Every Christmas that has come and gone since then it seems like the NES is hotter than the last and, to Nintendo’s credit, they have steadily increased the supply of the systems to try and meet demand.
Part of the problem was exasperated last year when a worldwide microchip shortage gripped the technology sector. This meant many manufacturers of electronics couldn’t order the amount of chips as they wanted, leading to shortages in numerous industries, most notably video games and computers. This mostly had an impact on NES Game Paks, the cartridges that fit into the NES console, not the system itself.
It has become a trend for Nintendo to send out every last console it has produced in time for the ever important holiday seasons. This means there’s usually a massive shortfall of supply in January. However, they usually recover by February and retailers normally have adequate stock during the typically slower sales period leading up to holiday shopping, which normally kicks off in September.
So far 1989 has been very different. Nintendo continues to struggle to keep the NES on store shelves as more and more customers eagerly snap them up. Now that the system has been out for over three years, the library of games is vast and there’s literally something for everyone. With the company regularly in the news and word of mouth as positive as ever about the latest slate of games, it’s no wonder kids everywhere are begging parents for one.
Dennis Lynch of the Chicago Tribune wrote an excellent article in today’s edition that talks about trying to find a Nintendo. Luckily more and more stores now carry the line of products so customers have more options than ever before. Just be prepared to see empty shelves at most of them.
Tracking The Elusive Nintendos
March 31, 1989|By Dennis Lynch.
Quick now: What does the Nintendo Entertainment System have in common with Judge Crater, Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa? Answer: They all mysteriously disappeared at the height of their fame, and no one can find them to this day.
If you haven`t heard of the Nintendo Entertainment System, odds are you`ve either just awakened from a two-year sleep or you don`t have a child under the age of 14. Nintendo is simply the Toy of the late `80s, a marketing phenomenon every bit as remarkable as the Cabbage Patch Kid craze of a few years back.
The Nintendo Entertainment System is what computer nerds call a dedicated game machine. That is, it`s a computer that does one thing only: It plays games. And does it ever play games. It offers superior graphics, great sound and an array of clever and whimsical game cartridges that delight children and adults of both sexes. At a cost of $100 to $150 for the control system (and $40 to $50 per cartridge), the Nintendo Entertainment System is one of the great entertainment buys of all time.
The trouble is finding it. Nintendo was the best-selling toy of 1988, and it was relatively easy to get from local stores until around last Thanksgiving. Then when the Christmas rush hit, Nintendo mania began in earnest. Since December it has become virtually impossible to find either the control deck or game cartridges.
I recently visited or talked to employees of almost 20 toy stores in Chicago and the suburbs. The stores ranged from large discount houses like Venture in Elgin to small, privately run establishments like Klipper`s in Glenview. I asked each store if they had any games systems in, or if they carried two of the most popular cartridges, Super Mario Bros. II and Zelda II: The Adventures of Link.
The results of my survey: Out of all the stores, there was exactly one Nintendo Entertainment System on the shelves, and this happened to be one that another customer had just returned for a refund. Not a single store carried either of the cartridges.
That`s not to say you can`t find them anywhere. Some stores are receiving shipments, but they sell out almost as fast as they get them. Toys “R“ Us in Schaumburg, for instance, received 100 system units two weeks ago, but a store employee expected they would be sold out in three days.
I began each call by asking, “Do you have any Nintendos in?“ and I became intrigued by how the employees would react. Some simply laughed derisively and said, “Are you kidding?“ Others sounded bored, as if they had heard the questions a thousand times before. Others were exasperated and testy. Most, I could tell, were quite disgusted with the whole subject and would prefer never to hear the word Nintendo again.
No such luck. Pity poor game store workers these days: An amazing amount of their time each day is spent explaining that there are no Nintendos available, but they hope to have a shipment soon, so please try later, thank you very much. Almost every worker I talked to had his or her own little Nintendo horror story to share.
Tim Giles, who works in the electronics department at the K mart in Arlington Heights, reports that his store gets at least 30 calls a day from people who want Nintendos. “During Christmas, though, it was even worse. A hundred calls a day. It was crazy. All we did was talk to people about Nintendos.“ Giles, who has somehow retained his sense humor through the onslaught, spoke with a sense of bemused amazement about the whole phenomenon. “This has been the wildest experience ever.“
When I asked an employee of a Gamer`s Paradise outlet if he got a lot of calls each day about Nintendos, he replied, “Let`s just say I don`t have to look at my watch to tell when school is out.“ As soon as 2:30 or 3 p.m. rolls around, the phone calls from the kids begin, and they don`t let up until closing time. “It`s sort of sad,“ I was told. “You hear a lot of disappointed voices each day.“
One Chicago store has an interesting way of dealing with Nintendo inquiries. An employee told me that they often put callers “on Nintendo,“
which is their way of putting a call on permanent hold. The term is even in general use at the store now. Putting someone “on Nintendo“ means putting their call on hold and then never coming back to it.
For obvious reasons, that employee asked that she and her store not be identified. Numerous other employees would likewise speak to me only off the record. Most had amazing tales to tell. One particular story I heard repeated from employees at three stores: the tale of the $100 game cartridge.
Here`s how the story goes: Last Christmas a local game store in a popular mall was selling some of the most requested Nintendo cartridges for $100 apiece, nearly double the list price. After hearing the story for the third time, I decided to check the story out by calling the store itself.
An employee who asked not to be identified said that no, to his knowledge they never sold any cartridges for $100, but that yes, they had sold cartridges for $70, still about 50 percent above list price. While this practice is legal-businesses can charge whatever the market will bear-it does leave a store open to charges of price-gouging.
Most stores would never think of selling a package at above list cost. As Rob Hauff of Klipper`s told me, “Sure, people would probably pay $70 or $100 for a Nintendo cartridge right now, but it`s not fair to them.“ A Circus World Toys employee told me, “We`d never sell at above list. It`s not right.`
A Nintendo spokesman told me that Nintendo has received numerous reports of programs selling for $70 to $100, and that Nintendo feels such prices are“unconscionable. . . . Nintendo`s policy is that stores should not take advantage of the shortage.“
Whatever it costs, the Nintendo Entertainment System sells out as fast as it is stocked. Though most stores have not be getting regular shipments since December, a few units do dribble in on occasion to outlets. When that happens, they are snapped up within hours. “I`m getting a big shipment in this week,“ one manager told me during my survey, “but I can`t advertise it because I know that they will all be sold in the first couple hours and I don`t want to have to handle the complaints.“
When a rare shipment does come in, some customers try to buy it all for themselves. Several employees told me that it`s not uncommon to see someone buy seven or eight systems at a time. “Why would they do that?“ I asked one worker at a Venture store. “Because they then turn around and sell them through local papers for twice the amount. So we`ve put on a limit: one to a customer.“
More than one worker told me that they have seen customers break into tears over the Nintendo. “And not just the kids, either,“ another Venture department manager told me. “You get parents whose kid is having a birthday tomorrow, and the mom can`t find the system anywhere, so she starts crying. Or the grandparents. They`ve promised the kid a certain cartridge, and then they come in and either they can`t find it or they discover it costs $50 and they can`t afford it. So then they`re crushed. It`s sad.“
What is causing the shortage besides the simple law of supply and demand? The major problem is a shortage of microprocessors. A microprocessor is a tiny chip in each game cartridge that allows the game to run. Without the chip, you don`t have a game.
Peter Main, vice president of marketing at Nintendo, told me that there are several contributing factors in the chip shortage. One is a Japanese agreement to reduce the number of chips that are dumped on U.S. markets.
A second problem is that the chip used in Nintendo cartridges also happens to be the same chip used in camcorders and portable telephones. The increased demand for those products has led to chip manufacturers being overloaded.
Last year, more than 40 million Nintendo cartridges were sold; this year, demand is expected to exceed 60 million. But supply cannot keep up because there simply aren`t enough chips to go around.
Besides the chip shortage, another problem is that Nintendo keeps a tight rein on its products, purposely keeping down the amount of cartridges in circulation. As Main says, “We`re stingy in our manufacturing and in our shipping.“ Others claim that this stinginess is a monopolistic way to keep prices high by keeping cartridges in short supply.
I asked Main what Nintendo is doing about the shortage. “You mean besides hoping and praying?“ he replied. The worst of the shortage should be over, Main says, and his company will continue to try to meet demand while maintaining the quality of the product. The company is also experimenting with reconfiguring certain popular games so that they use smaller chips that are less in demand. But that breakthrough could take some time.
For now, though, what should the average customer do to survive the shortage? Here are some tips:
- Be patient. All shortages must pass.
- No matter if you`re looking for the complete game system or just a cartridge, see if your local store will give you a rain check or put your name on a waiting list. When the next shipment comes in, the store will call you. If the store won`t establish a waiting list, shop around until you find one that will. Most managers I talked to would much rather call customers when a shipment comes rather than having customers call them every day asking,“Anything in yet?“
- Call Nintendo`s customer service number at 800-422-2602. Main says that operators there will give you the names of dealers near you with Nintendo products in stock. They can also give you the number of mail-order firms with Nintendo products on hand.
- Check newspapers for ads offering used systems and cartridges for sale. But beware of inflated prices.
- If you can`t buy it, rent it. Many local video stores rent Nintendo.
- Consider the Sega alternative. The Sega game system is superior to the Nintendo Entertainment System in graphics, and it actually costs less. Popular Sega titles were stocked at most of the stores I contacted. If you want arcade quality entertainment today, without waiting lists and unstocked shelves, switch to Sega
- Tell the kids to read a book instead. And remind them that Christmas is only 269 days away.
[Source: Chicago Tribune]