In mid-February the video game sales-tracker for the U.S., NPD, issued its sales results for January — the figures showed a year-on-year industry decline and Wii U sales "well below" 100,000. The actual estimate was between 45,000 and 59,000 Wii U sales, which reinforced a general impression — emphasized by Nintendo to its own shareholders — that sales of the console had lost momentum and, ultimately, upcoming major game releases are needed to get the system moving again.
And yet Gamasutra, which posted the original figures for the January results, was contacted by tipsters that suggested the Wii U hardware sales were more like 100,000 units. What would cause this? The theory goes that the higher figure could ultimately come down to resellers, those that gobbled systems up during the Holiday season before promptly trying to sell them via marketplaces such as eBay; their hopes that the lucrative market of topping up prices to accommodate for low stock would carry on into the New Year seem to have back-fired, with the secondary market falling away in January.
But it isn't so much that the NPD Group estimate was an error, I was told, but rather it didn't show the full picture.
The figure reported by the NPD Group, the sources' story went on, included perhaps 100,000 units sold to consumers — and 40,000 or more units returned to stores. The net, then, would yield the 57,000 units reported by the NPD Group.
And the explanation for those tens of thousands of returns? The collapse of the secondary market, those resellers who had purchased Wii U systems in November and December 2012 hoping that popularity and a shortage of systems would yield a tidy profit through Christmas and into the new year. However, profiteers advertising Wii U systems on sites like Amazon, eBay and Craigslist saw their margins disappear and then chose to return their systems to retailers while their original receipts still permitted them to.
NPD refused to comment on this, as it's not something that retailers would be keen to advertise, but another source of Gamasutra's has suggested that various retailers have found that for every 100 Wii U systems sold in January, between 40-50 have then been returned, in many cases possibly by failed resellers.
It's only a theory, but is another contrast to the rampant reselling market that accompanied the Wii long after its launch. Naturally Nintendo's focused on major upcoming releases and boosting sales into Spring, and it looks like stock isn't going to be an issue when, assuming all goes to plan for the company, demand increases throughout 2013.