Where’s Elmo?

Discussion
Dec 15, 2006

Commentary by George Anderson


Okay. First Wal-Mart had some stock of Elmo T.M.X. and then it didn’t. But, now it does?


The retailer announced earlier this week that it had come into additional units of the season’s hottest selling toy and would put them up for sale on walmart.com. In fact, the company announced it would sell 4,000 dolls a day for four consecutive days.


Consumers were thrilled to find that there were Elmos left, especially at a price that was not some multiple of the $39.97 Wal-Mart charges. The demand for the dolls has been so great that Wal-Mart’s site experienced at least one outage on Wednesday due to traffic.


Not all of Wal-Mart’s customers have come away happy, as the available Elmos have been swept up quickly leaving many still without the toy for Christmas. Others have questioned if Wal-Mart had been hoarding its supply to dangle in front of shoppers as the days draw closer to Christmas.


The only response Wal-Mart has given to the last question is that it “secured” additional Elmos and is putting them on sale at a much lower price than found on eBay and other places on the internet.


The short supply of Elmos, which were expected to be the hottest selling holiday item when they were launched back in Sept., along with extremely limited supplies of new video game consoles such as Sony’s PS3 system, has consumers seeing conspiracies. To date, however, that doesn’t appear to have soured their mood when it comes to purchasing.


Discussion Questions: Has the lack of availability of some popular items eroded consumer confidence in manufacturers and retailers? Which bears the brunt
of resentment when toys and other popular items are not available for sale leading up to Christmas?

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6 Comments on "Where’s Elmo?"


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Bill Bishop
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Bill Bishop
15 years 5 months ago

Shoppers really have no tolerance for this, and frankly neither should we.

The lack of availability of popular items is not only eroding consumer confidence, it’s prompting them to look elsewhere to satisfy their needs, and this is definitely benefiting online shopping, as well as other retailers who have positioned themselves effectively to serve these “surges in demand.”

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

Shoppers get angry at the store when the item they want isn’t in stock. The manufacturer doesn’t get the blame. Some retailers communicate their stock difficulties well. Some retailers just leave it up to the salespeople to apologize, which is certainly demoralizing. Shoppers may be angry for a while, but there are very few stores that have never experienced stockouts. So if you’re angry at Wal-Mart today, chances are you’ll be angry at Kohl’s a few months from now. Eventually, if you hold onto the anger forever, you’ll be angry at everyone, since every store runs out of something eventually.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

Why should this year be any different than past years? People will complain and then line up like sheep at every report that “the truck will be here next Tuesday.” Over consumption is a heavy standard to meet.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

The frustration comes from the promises by retailers of the number of units available and then not having that many or by the retailers not promising how many units are available and letting long lines queue when there are only 3 or 6 units available. In either of these cases it feels like the retailer is playing games and then the negative consumer reaction is toward the retailer. When the ads identify how many units are available and announce the one unit per customer philosophy, then consumers can determine whether they have a chance when standing in line and there is less frustration.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
15 years 5 months ago
I recently spent 25 hours driving back and forth between New Jersey and Western Ohio. I am not a “conspiracy buff,” but listening to the talk radio stations as I drove made me realize there are an awful lot of angry and suspicious people out there. I believe some retailers may have manipulated inventories or availability in order to influence consumer behavior, but I hope it backfires. Even if a popular item draws people to your store or website it does not mean they will buy other items. And if you promise to have the latest craze, you better not disappoint the frazzled shopper who thought they were finally going to get it from you. The disappointment may far exceed the relief that others received. As far as the hype and underproduction, I believe that will continue to be a selling strategy. It is even easier to implement now, with the internet offering a way to built to reach specific demographics. The good side is that it may lead to more focused products targeting consumers… Read more »
Joe Delaney
Guest
Joe Delaney
15 years 5 months ago

Yes, it has eroded consumer confidence in retailers, more so than the manufacturers.

As to whether there is a lasting effect, consider that back in the mid 80s there was the Cabbage Patch debacle and yet customers are still flocking to stores for the latest fad or electronic “goodie.”

With the Cabbage Patch Doll, even though we had not advertised it, customers would literally scold store managers that a) they were ruining their child’s Christmas and b) they were hoarding them in the backroom. By the way, both of those were false.

Bottom line – As long as the little one wants the latest and greatest object of their desire, consumers will continue to walk through the Dante’s 4th circle to get it.

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