The Xbox One has launched almost two weeks ago, and it’s doubtlessly high in demand between gamers (and probably between non-gamers as well), but we often see the words “sold out” pop up as part of Microsoft’s marketing. One of the latest instances was yesterday, with Microsoft’s Xbox Vice President of Marketing Yusuf Mehdi going out on a limb and telling Ars Technica that the console is “sold out at retailers around the world.”
Let’s get out of the way a simple marketing fact: there’s no real efficient way for a manufacturer to know for sure when its console is fully sold out at retailers. Not all retailers report their stock back to the manufacturer, especially the stock that has been already delivered to each store. So there’s always a large chance that stores belonging to this or that retailer will still have a sizable number of units on the shelves.
The obvious result is that reports come up with units still for sale (and day one units to boot), contradicting the official marketing message. To add further fuel to the fire the moment of this writing the console is available for sale on Amazon.com, and has been there for several hours without running out of stock.
I’m fully aware of how hard to nigh impossible it is for Microsoft (or Sony) to keep track of all the units out on the shelves or in the warehouses of retailers, and that’s exactly one of the reason why the “out of stock” words should be left out of official messaging. When customers read those words and then go to a store and find those boxes sitting on the shelves, or browse to Amazon and see that “add to cart” button lit up, it does not give a good impression.
I’m also fully aware that the bread and butter of a marketing executive is to spin the truth as much as possible in order to put the product in the best light possible, which often borders on half-truths or even veiled lies, but in this case the message isn’t even that positive or beneficial to begin with.
While I understand that Microsoft needs to convey the message that the Xbox One is in high demand, the best way to do that is simply what Sony did and what Microsoft itself did on day one (and didn’t repeat afterwards): give actual sales numbers. And no, letting us know how many bazillion zombies have been killed in Dead Rising 3 doesn’t help.
Just saying that the console is sold out does more harm than good, especially when it isn’t. Not only it gives a message contrasting with what many customers can easily and clearly see, but it can easily discourage some from actually looking for the console and purchasing it.
Let’s say I’m a kid’s father: my son asks me for a Xbox One, but I read it’s sold out (or even the much more truthful “sold out at most major retailers,” included in other, milder messages). There’s a good chance that I simply won’t bother at all and that I’ll buy my son a Wii U, which is nicely and readily available basically everywhere. That’ll save my time and my son will get a console anyway.
On the other hand, if Microsoft doesn’t tell me that the console is sold out, I’m going to get in my car and start looking around in the shops (or online), and there’s a chance that I’ll find one for my son, especially if I live in a densely populated area that received most of the deliveries.
Ultimately, there’s no indication that the Xbox One isn’t selling well. Most sources point to the fact that Microsoft actually provided more units (at least in the United States) than Sony did, which is a verypositive thing. They managed to secure more production capability and they’re leveraging it, resulting in the fact that the console is more readily available at retailers.
They should boast their ability to produce and deliver more units than their rivals, inviting customers to purchase the Xbox One while it’s available, instead of discouraging them by telling it’s sold out or hard to find.
While “selling out” may sound cool, it means you can’t sell your product anymore, and that isn’t in any shape or form beneficial for business, especially when there are still units out there to be bought, and more are going to come soon.