A couple weeks ago I made a crack in one of the retailer groups that went something like this.
"I think ordering is easy. I just spend twenty hours a week researching new products."
It was slightly funny, highly accurate, and probably underselling how I spend my time, but it also doesn't begin to address the real issues when it comes to ordering, any kind of ordering. Sometimes we talk about new release ordering exclusively, but the dearth of stock on an evergreen can be just as painful for us, just look at the current stock levels of Catan around retail stores (including my own) that didn't realize we were about to have stock issues with it. (Or any Marfair title right now, but that's a different thing totally.)
When we're placing orders we're using a strange combination of sales history, predictive algorithms, this ephemeral thing we can refer to as 'customer buzz', and hopefully, the expertise of like-minded retailers who run similar stores and are willing to talk about these things with you. When you add in budgetary concerns, because very few of us can buy every product we want without considering the financial implications, and things like publisher trust, you end up with a true disaster of thought processes that can make ordering, and re-ordering, a challenge of nigh epic proportions.
There are so many concerns we have to think about when we place an order, and as a product line ages we have to think about those things in a different light. I loathe calling out specific companies in this space, but we need to use real world examples to make the case somethings.
Test Case One Star Wars Destiny
This CCG from Fantasy Flight released with a huge amount of hype, but it also released with supply problems that utterly crippled the ability to build a community of players. The first set was allocated heavily at release, sold out instantly in most cases, and then was impossible to acquire for a period of time that caused many players to move on to other things.
The second set suffered similar problems, but the demand had dropped because the first set shortages had caused players to lose interest.
The third set is out now, and I got every box I ordered, and was able to reorder. This was a case where my crystal ball was in good working order. I was able to properly predict the demand within my four walls to not end up with this product on my shelves. I sold what I thought I would, and can now just keep a couple of boxes in.
Not everyone had a fully working crystal ball though, and if you look at eBay you'll discover that many retailers missed out the fact that hype had died due to product shortages. I can currently buy Awakenings, Empire at War, and Legacies, all for prices that violate the Asmodee MAP policy.
The moral of the story here is simple; early shortages (especially of a collectible game) can cause players to lose interest before those shortages can even be addressed. Star Wars Destiny is not the first time we have seen this either, many of us witnessed this phenomenon with DiceMasters, another game that saw shortages of its initial release.
These two games have another thing in common as well, as they both suffered from a gross lack of preorder numbers from retailers. DiceMasters was met with a collective 'meh' from many of my retail colleagues, while Destiny was met with groans about it being collectible from many people I discussed it with in the early days.
We, as retailers, butchered the potential of these games, so I hope everyone has reacted properly as we move forward. Collectible games are a horrifically difficult market these days, and every time a publishing partner begins pushing on towards us I struggle. I am one of the people who kind of giggled at DiceMasters, I helped put a pillow over its face while it was still in the cradle. At the same time, I ordered early and deep on Destiny, because Star Wars...duh.
Both of these games should have had a much better run, but the development cycle and lead time needed for printing really means that publishers need preorder numbers from us months before we currently are doing that, and in order to get them good preorder numbers at a time that they can affect printing numbers means we're preordering products we don't have enough information on. That makes this very difficult on both ends, retail and publishing.
Test Case Two Scythe
If you knew Scythe was going to be a hit I envy the heck out of you. My crystal ball saw nothing but murk on this title. It was released at a time that "I'll take two" was my standard response on any new release. I ordered two, and got allocated to one. I sold the one on release day, and it was months before I saw it again. When the second wave hit there were further allocations, but when the game was going for two or three times its retail price through online resellers people were willing to wait for it. I feel like, and I could be wrong, it was the fourth printing of Scythe before we could really get however many we wanted.