16 minutes. That’s the total time that the June wave of Smash Bros amiibo stayed on Nintendo’s Official UK Store, before vanishing behind the dreaded Sold Out sign. While the US amiibo situation is well documented, it’s easy to buy into the misconception that everywhere else has it easy. We’ve all seen the images of stores brimming with amiibo stock, but these are very much the exception rather than the rule, and in the UK, the presence of amiibo is virtually non-existent.
While the US market is (surprisingly) still very retail focussed, the battle for amiibo in the UK is almost entirely digital. A by-product of the GAME Stores group holding an effective monopoly of the games industry on the high street, the only place to go to get amiibo is online, and it is here where the chaos arises. Because no matter what companies may say, a pre-order is only worth as much as the paper it’s written on, and in the digital world, that paper doesn’t even exist.
In the retail space, there is only one large video games retailer in the UK – GAME. The GAME group, who for better or worse have swallowed all that have challenged them, are the biggest specialist games retailer out there, meaning amiibo are only going to one place in any meaningful quantity. While supermarkets and department stores are stocking a handful of (typically Mario) amiibo, the ones they know they can sell, the rarer amiibo are simply not appearing at retail, leaving the shelves in constant need of replenishment.
What this leaves us with is the major retailer stocking only common amiibo, typically Mario, Peach and Yoshi, and a handful of rare amiibo appearing on day one of a new wave, only to be snapped up by 9:05am. A good example of this was my recent trip to Toys R Us on launch day of the Sonic/Mega Man wave of amiibo. While this wave was meant to include King Dedede, Meta Knight and Shulk, I was informed that only 2 Sonic and 2 Mega Man amiibo had arrived – at 9:30am, I managed to grab the last Mega Man amiibo. Since then I have seen neither amiibo anywhere, and am still looking to add King Dedede to my collection. Simply put, the retail stock in the UK isn’t there.
That means the stock must all be going online, and with a smaller amount of sites to distribute to, GAME again being the forerunner in amiibo stock, the situation is a little easier. There are a handful of reliable sites to visit, with the Nintendo Online Store being the best, but because the retail situation is so dire, the stock online soon disappears.
The problem online in the UK is twofold – pre-orders getting cancelled and retailers becoming effective scalpers. The pre-order cancellation situation is entirely down to the systems not being geared for the sheer volume of pre-orders entering the system at once. Many times I’ve had confirmed pre-orders for amiibo placed, only for weeks later a cancellation e-mail to come through as projected stock levels are considered. Be this Nintendo’s fault for understocking, or the retailer’s fault for overselling, it has created a culture of never having enough pre-orders. It’s a vicious circle – pre-orders get cancelled, so people start pre-ordering on multiple sites, leading to less stock for individuals.
The other, more pressing concern is the pricing. Knowing they have a captive audience, and one that is desperate to get their hands on amiibo, online retailers have been steadily bumping up their prices. While Nintendo have stayed at their RRP of £10.99, GAME amiibo now sell for £14.99 (both online and in-store) while in the last few weeks, ShopTo have raised their prices to over £20, an almost 100% increase in price, all of which is pure profit. ShopTo’s pricing is so absurd, that sellers on eBay are now actually undercutting a genuine business. And that really sums up the situation now.
The stock just isn’t there, and with no competition on the high street, the online marketplace can effectively demand a price. Amiibo are in short supply, and while demand outstrips stock, the pricing won’t go down. Nintendo’s store of course remains the place to get amiibo – both in terms of confirmed stock and pricing – while supermarkets are the place to go to grab an unexpected character; I, for instance, managed to grab one of the handful of Meta Knight’s available in Europe from my local supermarket.
With all that said though, there is still not the absolute chaos unfolding here that is in the US. While that can be attributed to a smaller overall fanbase, and a more focussed distribution network, the lack of any meaningful retail presence (in the UK certainly) means that we’re just not seeing people camped outside stores. The battle for amiibo in the UK is almost entirely online, and comes down to being in the right place, at the right time. Or working in a job with a computer to hand at all times.
There are signs things are changing though. While not as big a problem as some would believe, online retailers have stopped foreign importers ordering amiibo headed to the UK; the net result is that on the majority of sites, pre-orders are staying open much longer, and with far fewer cancellations (so far). Pre-orders are also now strictly limited to one per customer, unlike the early days when it orders were hitting double figures for resale. And, although Nintendo would hate to admit it, we’re hitting the more obscure characters, making them slightly easier to get hold of.
That still of course doesn’t account for the previous waves of amiibo that are gone and seemingly forgotten. Meta Knight, King Dedede and Shulk are prime examples of amiibo that turned up in such small quantities that they’re almost unattainable, yet we’ve seen no inclination of a stock refresh any time soon (especially baffling considering the coming release of Kirby and the Rainbow Curse). This is of course, a universal problem, and one we can only assume Nintendo is all too aware of – we have to believe they’re doing something about it in the interim, but actually knowing when the stock will arrive is an entirely different matter.
Nintendo have however recently taken extra steps to promote the time and date when the next wave of pre-orders will go live on their Online Store. Greninja and Jigglypuff would go live at 3pm on Wednesday we were told a few weeks ago. By 3pm they were all gone. The reason? Someone had put them live at 2:40pm. Maybe there’s still work to be done…