Today brought a familiar turn of events in the realm of amiibo and anything that's 'limited edition' of late from Nintendo. The best-known toy secret was announced with confirmation of Walmart exclusivity for the Super Mario amiibo - Gold Edition, and then they were gone before they'd really arrived. Pre-orders popped up on Walmart's website and disappeared in no time; you know what, dozens of these pre-orders have since appeared on eBay. As Nintendo Life regular 'Ryno' rather wittily put it - "now they are exclusive to eBay".
Of course that's an old story, so rather than bemoan the fact that, yet again, a limited edition product has sold out in barely a quarter of an hour online, let's consider real solutions that could alleviate the problem. Scalping will never be fully conquered and will be an ever-present for as long as commerce exists, but Nintendo and its retail partners - and they're most assuredly partners in the cases of exclusives - can actually do simple things to not only sell out all stock, but also keep real fans happy in the process.
For starters, let's address something that we think retailers and Nintendo either don't realise or are wilfully ignoring. It's no good announcing something online and then opening pre-orders at a relatively random time, albeit within a ball-park time frame of an announcement. The majority of fans can't spend all of their time randomly refreshing retailer websites to see when pre-orders open, because they have lives, responsibilities and / or better things to do with their time. Some of the most devoted will do that, yes, but it's unsurprising that eBay opportunists are often in there so quickly - there's money to be made, and some do make a living from their eBay stores; amiibo's clearly a useful little earner for some.
This is where Nintendo and businesses fail to understand the difference between online stores and bricks-and-mortar outlets. If you're desperate to get something in a store and it's first-come-first-served you have a date, and you get there for that date, perhaps waiting in line for a few hours outside. That's fair. Popping products up online at fairly arbitrary times doesn't reward that commitment or give a fair chance, as you can't plan for it. We saw the same thing with the Majora's Mask 3D limited edition, with listings just appearing and selling out rapidly. It's physical retail logic loosely applied to online, which is self-evidently daft.
So how to get around it? Well, give consumers warning. It's no good for Nintendo to wring its hands and say that these products are valuable and express 'surprise', but it can actually lead the way with some simple ideas. The obvious solution is to use press releases, tweets, Facebook posts and any other means not just to say a product is coming, but to say that a product's pre-orders will open at a specific time and date; at least 24 hours notice would be enough. Suppliers like Nintendo provide street dates to retailers all the time, so it's not a stretch to agree when product pages open pre-orders.
When demand is high, this is how sensible businesses do things. Music concerts - for example - fall victim to scalpers, of course, but many artists announce dates that ticket sales will open; likewise with any in-demand live event, music or otherwise. You have a time when you know it's happening, you make sure you're online and you give it a go. It's no guaranteed win, but it's better than nothing. Advance warning isn't a difficult concept.
The other key area is some degree of control over quantities of sales, which in fairness to retailers has been a recent trend. Various outlets have started applying a one-per-customer rule, so that's a positive. That needs to be standard for any hardware, limited edition or amiibo that Nintendo knows will sell-out fast.
Retailers also need to step up and stop unscrupulous buyers in stores once the offline-only stock arrives, applying the one-per-customer rule properly. We recently published a feature called Tales From the Front Line of amiibo Collecting, which collated some stories of troubles people had obtaining some of the toys, even when following the rules and doing the right thing. Whether it's stores letting some buy up all stock of rare figures, or even worse allowing staff managers to buy stock without putting it on shelves, there have to be some standards. Nintendo's powerless on this score, but if enough horror stories are shared perhaps some shops will try to avert bad press and deal with it. All purchases are recorded on systems, so - again - it's not that difficult.
This doesn't just apply to Nintendo, of course, but there are reasonable steps that can be taken. Not all of what we've said above is easily done, but some of it is - all it takes is a little extra organisation and genuine desire to cater to fans. It's also easy - and lazy - to say that life just isn't fair, that's capitalism, nothing can be done. There's not always fairness, and these are minor first-world problems, yes, but that doesn't mean that a few small gestures can't be made for fans willing to spend their money on Nintendo merchandise they desperately want.
The only losers would be scalpers.