Nintendo Switch Preorders Still Aren’t Back Open: Is It Manufactured Scarcity?

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The Nintendo Switch officially becomes available on March 3, and preorders were quickly sold out. Some retailers replenished their stock of units destined for preorder earlier this month, only to have that next batch sell out quickly too. But with only a handful of days left until the Switch is out, preorders haven’t opened back up again.

So is there any reason to be concerned? Some would say yes.

Manufactured scarcity for the Nintendo Switch?

Forbes contributor Erik Kain suggests that Nintendo could be pulling another marketing stunt for the Nintendo Switch. Indeed, many people want something just because they perceive everyone else as having it, and if retailers can’t seem to keep preorders for the gaming device available ahead of Friday’s launch, maybe everyone will have one when it launches. Or maybe not.

He says it seemed as if Nintendo manufactured scarcity for the mini NES Classic Edition by holding back some units to make it seem as if demand is exceptionally high. This then boosts real demand because people perceive it as being so desirable that retailers can’t keep it in stock. If Nintendo did pull a stunt like this for the NES Classic, it worked quite well.

There was a wide array of headlines about the alleged supply constraints and reports about long lines and even fights among consumers who were in line. More than 1.5 million units were sold at launch, turning some tidy profits for Nintendo from the NES Classic right at launch.

Same strategy again?

According to Kain, Nintendo has used this strategy more than once before, and, in fact, it’s actually a common one among toymakers. Gaming console makers don’t usually do this, but Nintendo does sort of ride in both the gaming and toy categories, given that its products are games and gaming devices targeted at children. A lot of parents want their child to have the things they felt they missed out on when they were kids, so if it sounds like every other kid on the planet has one, some feel that their kid should have one.

There’s no way of knowing whether Nintendo is manufacturing perceived demand for the Switch right now, but we could get some indication of whether this is happening after the gaming device launches. One strategy analysts follow when trying to track early demand for Apple’s newest iPhone models is keeping an eye on shipping times. The longer it takes for the company to reach one- to two-day shipping, the better demand appears to be. Of course supply constraints also play a role in this, and the same will be true of the Nintendo Switch.

Some Nintendo Switch devices available at GameStop on launch day

One clue we may have is the fact that GameStop has earmarked some Nintendo Switch units for in-store sales on launch day. The retailer is planning launch parties at midnight on Friday in some markets, which is another marketing ploy used to pump interest. It’s unclear how many units will be available per store, but if a lot of units have been set aside, this could be where some of this “manufactured scarcity” is coming from. It’s interesting to note though that GameStop management defined the response to the Switch thus far as “tremendous,” so unless the retailer is in cahoots with Nintendo to make the Switch seem more popular than it is, this may not be manufactured at all.

If this is just a marketing stunt though, it could always backfire, of course, because Nintendo is keeping people from being able to buy one and pick it up on launch day. Consumers just might decide they don’t want it and not even go out to stand in line. The Millennial generation is notorious for preferring online transactions, so why go to the extra effort of lining up for something?

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