4Q is time for what’s hot and unavailable

Every 4th quarter there are stories about what is hot and hard to find. This year, it is the e-reader category, specifically Sony’s Daily Edition Reader ($399) and Barnes & Noble’s Nook ($259). (See WSJ 11/18/09 – Sony Says Some E-Reader Orders May Miss Christmas).  Sony is telling customers that they are now shipping orders on Dec 18th – a little tight to ensure being included as a stocking stuffer.

My favorite quote from the article is:

“The possibility that Sony, a huge electronics manufacturer, would be caught off guard by supply-chain issues is surprising, said Mike Serbinis, president of Shortcovers

The presumption is that an experienced and large manufacturer should not have any trouble matching supply with demand. This simply ignores the fact that size and experience are no match for the uncertainties of the market.

Next, it is interesting that Sony is capable of quoting shipping dates:

“In October, the company told its first wave of customers that the Nook would ship Nov. 30. A second wave of customers was told it would ship Dec. 7; shipping dates of Dec. 11 and Dec. 18 were later given.”

This does demonstrate a sophisticated level of supply chain management, assuming their quotes are reasonably accurate: to be able to do this requires a significant amount of real-time information sharing across the supply chain and the skill to process that information quickly.

Finally, I can’t help but speculate on whether they intentionally kept supplies short. Suppose you think you could sell 100,000 units. If you make 75,000, they you are likely to run short. If demand turns out to be 120,000, you are really short and you get lots of free press about how hot your product is. But to make that strategy work, loosing thousands in sales has to cost you less than the free advertising. Hard to say if it is worth it.  Then again, it is entirely possible that if your new techno gadget isn’t “hot”, then it becomes “stone cold”. For example, if “natural” demand is 100,000 but you make 75,000, then actual demand turns out to be 125,000.  If “natural” demand is 100,000 but you make 100,000, then actual demand turns out to be 60,000 because who wants to buy a product that isn’t popular.

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One Response to 4Q is time for what’s hot and unavailable

  1. Martin Lariviere says:

    I am not convinced that Sony and B&N are out to short the market. There is a format war going on here as well. If I recall correctly, Sony’s readers, the Nook, and the Kindle are all using different formats. There is something to be said for having a large installed base of readers so that publishers cannot ignore your format. This may matter more for B&N and Amazon since (I suspect) that they are more interested in selling e-books than in selling just the readers. Sony it is less clear that they want to get into content provision as well as hardware.

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