Last week, while the Infendo offices bubbled with giddy Brawl-induced enthusiasm and my colleagues took some brutal smash attacks from the regulars, I was taking a week-long break in sunny San Jose.
Finding a launch-week copy in California was almost impossible, so as soon as I landed in Pittsburgh late last night, I committed to a very important goal. There would be no phone calls, no unpacking. At least not for a while; more than anything else, I needed to get my Smash on.
I drove home, tossed my luggage in the corner and made an impetuous 12:15 AM beeline to a local Wal-Mart, desperate to find a leftover copy of Brawl and to log some late-night hours of Smash. I expected to a find ghost town, an empty department with few, if any, copies and nary a nearby Wal-Mart associate to assist me.
What I found was quite different.
As I passed the children’s apparel and turned right at the Wheat Thins, I noticed a large group of customers had amassed near the electronics department, forming a line that stretched well beyond the HD television displays. I immediately feared they were waiting for a Brawl shipment, leaving me Smash-less. But after asking one of the several associates patrolling the area, I learned they weren’t waiting for a new movie or game release at all.
They were waiting for Wii. This particular Wal-Mart had just received a shipment of 19 Wii consoles, and at midnight, they went on sale.
I had unexpectedly walked into another case of Wii-mania. Customers were complaining about low shipments, “unfair line” structures and stealthy “line jumpers.” More than 25 people waited in line, though several had walked away in the hours prior. Wal-Mart positioned several employees in the electronics department for the shipment, as well as managers and security for rambunctious parents who were nearing pre-Christmas levels of consumer anticipation.
On a random Saturday. At midnight. In March.
“My daughter knows someone who works here,” said one customer. “He told her yesterday they had a shipment coming in, so we got here at about 6:30 PM and have been waiting here ever since.”
Though most customers were able to pick up a Wii, several walked away discouraged as the hours passed. Some stuck around until the very end, perhaps hoping for some sort of miracle or counting error, before being turned away after the shipment was depleted.
“This is just ridiculous,” said one disappointed customer. “They’ve got to be doing this on purpose. How are people supposed to get one when they’re hoarding all the damn things?”
Conspiracy theories were abound, not exclusive to frustrated customers who were turned away without a Wii. Even some who were able to get one shared the feeling that Nintendo is leaking Wii systems to the market slowly, as did some Wal-Mart employees.
“Oh, they’re definitely doing this on purpose,” said a Wal-Mart electronics employee. “They’re saving them for Christmas, just like last year, so it builds demand and then we’ll sell a ton of them over the holidays.”
Asked when she thought supply might meet demand, and chaotic shipment situations like that night’s would stop happening, she answered me with a quick chuckle.
“Not until after Christmas. Not until next year, at least.”
“We get a shipment every two weeks,” she continued. “We started getting shipments of about 15, but they send bigger shipments to stores that sell more accessories. We’ve been trying to move a lot of that stuff, so now we’re up to shipments like tonight’s.”
Despite bigger shipments, Wii consoles still don’t last long.
“This happens every time. We usually already have people waiting, but we announce it over the speakers in the store, too. That’s when people start rushing back to get one. They sell out so fast that there’s no point putting them on the shelves. We tried it once, and people were breaking into the cases to grab them. So we don’t anymore. That sign has been in there for months.”
I checked the Wii section, and sure enough, there was a sign. Although a shipment had just come in minutes ago, all that stood in the glass Wii case was a simple white sign:
So when will the proverbial “bubble” burst, Infendoites? Is the Wii situation still desperate in your neck of the woods?