Can you find a Wii U on store shelves? The Report finds out
The Wii U has officially been up for grabs since midnight, November 18, but those who remember the first Wii’s launch know that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to find one. Is the Wii U going to be as hard to find as the original Wii? I searched every store in my city, from the mom-and-pop stores to the retail chains to find out.
My first stop was Pixels, a locally-owned store.
Those looking for a Wii U at local stores may not find much. I asked the cashier, who asked to be anonymous and wasn’t wearing a nametag, if the store was sold out. “We never had any,” he told me. “We’re not high enough on the distributor totem pole.”
I asked him if he thought the store would ever get some in, but he said he had no idea what the situation was; he was just a part-timer. The manager had the day off, and wasn’t available for contact. Stop one was a dead end.
Stop two was a store called Gamers, a small franchise with just over a dozen locations across the Midwest. Like Pixels, these locals weren’t getting any love from their distributor: No Wii U systems.
Store manager Mackenzie Burris said that tensions were high between the store, corporate, and the distributor. “Probably within the last few days, [corporate] received the information that we weren’t gonna be receiving any, and they updated us yesterday,” he said. “We’re not exactly happy.”
Justin Zimmerman, another manager, said information has been scarce, and stores have been left to playing the guessing game. “The speculation is that it’s either to drive up demand or they simply can’t make enough, or maybe both.”
Burris elaborated. “GameStop for example is a large, corporate company so they get a large allocation. When it trickles down, if they’ve got to allocate a higher number [of Wii U] to them, they’re going to pull it off the smaller companies to accommodate,” he said.
“And even they got shorted,” Zimmerman claimed. “They got 1.3 million pre-orders, and they only got 500,000 systems. Lot of unhappy people.” Next stop: GameStop.
Unfortunately, GameStop employees couldn’t speak to me with any identifying information, and they couldn’t reveal company-wide numbers, so I asked how many units this particular store received. “I want to say 10 at least,” the cashier told me.
No one at the store knew how many units to typically expect or when, but they said the waiting list was significant. “We won’t be able to fulfill the call list until after holidays,” the cashier said. Still, there is slight hope that list could move faster. “If someone doesn’t come and pick theirs up, it goes to the next person on the list.”
My next stop took me to the local Target.
They had a cart full of Wii U software and peripherals, with one system. It was already claimed, however, and the claimer had a week to pick it up. I asked if, like at GameStop, the system would be passed down a waiting list once the week had expired. Matt Stockman, a Target employee, told me that there was no list, and it would be open for anyone to buy.
Stockman said this Target received eight Deluxe bundles and five Basic sets. “We didn’t get very many at all, and the majority of those were accounted for already. I think only three of them were unaccounted for, and those were gone within 15 minutes.”
Stockman told me he had worked retail on several other system launches, including the original Wii, and this was the smallest shipment he had ever seen. I asked if that had translated to lowered enthusiasm for the system’s launch, and how consumer excitement rated compared to the original Wii. “Much lower. Much, much lower,” he said.
Part of that stems from customer confusion over what the system is. Johnston said some still don’t understand whether the system is a handheld, a peripheral that attaches to the original Wii, or its own system. “It’s not like it’s a new system coming out, like the Xbox, the Wii, the DS. It’s more of an improvement,” Stoackman said. “And lots of times those don’t have as much excitement as the initial release.”
A common theme among the stores I had visited thus far was that none of them were open at midnight for the system’s release. Walmart, however, had been open.
Todd Johnston, a Walmart cashier who had been working the midnight shift, told me the store had to turn customers away even before midnight. “We only had like 15 people show up, but we only had nine in stock, so we only got to get out those nine,” he said. Johnston also worked the Halo 4 midnight launch, which he described as “insane,” with a line stretching to the photo department. He said he was surprised that a new system hadn’t generated more buzz than a sequel to a franchise more than 10 years old.
Johnston said that anybody who lined up was knowledgeable about the system, but more casual shoppers have been taken by surprise. “Anyone who keeps up with the video game world already knew everything about it. We’ve only had one or two people I had to explain what it was,” he said. Johnston said that he’d only seen four people come in throughout the day asking about the system, a significant departure from the original Wii launch.
“I wanted a Wii when it was released, and I was young enough that my mom had to get it for me, but I remember her going through Hell and high water to get her hands on one. Everybody was fighting each other,” he said. “But I don’t think this was as big of a release.”
“I know among my co-workers, we have some skepticism about it. It’s not that exciting for a new generation system,” Johnston said. “But I haven’t had a chance to play with it so I don’t want to speak too soon.” I asked Johnston when he would be able to try one, or if he would purchase one outright.
“Maybe in spring when the price drops,” he said. It may sound unrealistic to think that the system’s price will drop so soon, but remember that the Nintendo 3DS cut its price almost in half just six months after its release. Waiting is definitely a viable option.
My final stop was Best Buy
There, I found what I suspected to be the last Wii U in town. It was a Basic set, but with how questionable it was that I’d find another relatively soon, I went for it.
Dallas Monk, a Best Buy sales associate, told me I was lucky. “About five minutes before you, a guy came in wanting to buy one. I showed him the Basic set and told him it was the last one we had. He said he was gonna wait til Black Friday to try and get one at a better price. I tried to warn him, I said there might not be any around for Black Friday at all.”
“We’ve been telling people for awhile we’re sold out of pre-orders. Basically, since two weeks after Nintendo announced the launch date we’ve been sold out.” Monk said this Best Buy was allocated six copies of the system to be put on the shelves, while the others were already claimed.
Monk was the only salesperson throughout my journey whose employer had required he learn about the system before it went on sale. Target’s information had been passed via word of mouth, while Walmart had a few “expert” employees that were already knowledgeable about the Wii U, but Best Buy requires employees to take E-Learnings so they can educate potential customers.
Monk said those have been helpful, but he doesn’t think the system will take off until the initial round of early adopters has had a chance to develop and spread the word virally. He said it was similar to Skylanders, when it first came out. He said that game was slow to sell at first, but once word of mouth had spread, it was impossible to find any of the Skylanders toys.
“Through Christmas time, I feel like it may not be as hot as expected. It’s gonna pick up afterwards. After everybody finds out what it is.”
System firmly in hand, I returned home. I had set out to answer the question: Can you find a Wii U on store shelves? The answer is yes you can, but you’d better hurry. I’ve broken down which stores to check out and which to avoid below:
GameStop. Waiting lists will keep you Wii U-less until past the new year, and everyone is thinking the same thing: “I need the new video game, so I’ll go to the video game store.” Avoid the crowd.
Locally-owned stores and small franchises. With even the larger retailers struggling or outright failing to meet demand, distributors pull from the little guys to send consoles where they can be more sure of sales.
Anything open 24 hours a day. Walmart was sold out before Sunday, as people lined up outnumbered available systems. With no clear “open” chance to slide in, you’ll be left taking chances every time you visit. Better to plan ahead and try to get somewhere first on shipment day.
Lesser-known store locations. Do you have two Walmarts in your town? Do most people tend to shop at one while neglecting another? Check out the store that gets less traffic. This seems like a simple concept, but people tend to go with what they’re comfortable in. Step outside that comfort zone and you might find what you’re looking for.
General retailers. K-Mart and Target aren’t known for being particularly welcoming to gamers, but they’re large enough retailers that they’ve likely received at least some Wii U units, and your fellow shoppers aren’t going to think to look there. Stop by as soon as the store opens or even a little beforehand to see what you can find.
Stores without waiting lists. Ask your customer specialist if there’s a waiting list of people ahead of you. If there is, feel free to put your name in, just know that it’ll be some time before you’re called. If you want a Wii U as soon as possible, don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Even if you put your name on a list, keep searching.