Every once in a while, I get reminded just how truly miserable Chapters-Indigo's inventory management systems are. Today was one of those days. I wanted to purchase a Kobo WiFi Touch for someone in the office. It seemed like it should be simple.
The first step was to go to the product page on the Chapters-Indigo website. There was a reassuring picture of the product with a Buy Now button.
I clicked the button and the new page defaulted to the basic Black model. Seeing a tool to "find it in store" and suspecting black would be in less demand than the newer colors, I decided to check if any local stores had inventory.
I selected the city and province.
A scrolling list of 14 "nearby" stores appeared.
Quite a few stores had zero inventory, but six showed one or more in stock.
The stock numbers made a certain amount of sense, today being the first day after a national holiday long weekend. Prior experience told me that calling a store and trying to reserve something wouldn't work -- heck, asking in-store if they will order in a book which they don't have in stock consistently results in an answer which equals "no".
So I selected a store with relatively a lot of stock which is also not too far from home, left the office a little early, and drove 30 kilometres to the store. Traffic was unpleasant, but I had the Dead's classic American Beauty on the audio system, the sunroof was open, and it finally felt like summer. Parking at the store was easy; Chapters-Indigo doesn't seem to have the traffic it did when it sold mostly books and not home decor oddities.
The Kobo display was easy enough to find. It was just off centre to the right of the entrance. It was also barren. Acrylic product display supports were fastened in rows across the counter top, with security cables hanging loose. At floor level, an array of scruffy looking Blackberry PlayBook boxes were lined up, unopened.
It took me a few moments to spot a sign to one side, announcing they are out of stock of the Kobo nationwide. Huh? The sign was clearly not new, but it contradicted what I had seen on the website. Got my iPhone out and re-checked the website. Some of the retail store inventory numbers had changed, but the store I was in still listed as having the number I had seen earlier.
A young lady in corporate uniform tried to sidle past me, but glanced my way at the wrong moment and made eye contact.
"Do you have any Kobo Readers?"
"No, we're out of stock and so are all stores," she said, gesturing at the sign. She added that the store has been out of stock for a while. "Online is out of stock, too. We will get some more (long pause) soon."
"Your website said you have inventory." I started firing up the iPhone to show her.
"I know." She shook her head and grimaced. This was evidently something she had dealt with many times. "It is ... just ... like that. We can't do anything."
There were a few moments of mutual sympathy. Then she brightened up a bit.
"Would you like a PlayBook?"
"Are you kidding?" came out before I could stop it. "Sorry," I added, "does anyone actually buy those?"
She glanced around her to see, I guess, if anyone else was listening. The store was nearly empty. "No."
"Okay," I said, "I am going to have to think about this." I started to move towards the door.
Following me for a few steps, she said very quietly, "You could get a Kindle from Amazon. They have the same screen and ship in two days. That's what my friend did."
I wonder how often my experience today is being replicated across Canada? I'm guessing that either Kobo underestimated demand for their new model, or Amazon is chewing up the supply of the new pearl e-ink screens and Kobo isn't able to get as many units as it needs.
Either way, Kobo has a problem. $139 buys you the Kobo WiFi Touch or the Kindle Wifi Graphite. Amazon's site tells me I can have it by Thursday. Kobo does not sell via their own website and Chapters-Indigo can't tell me when they have it or if they have it.
If Kobo does have a supply chain problem, they are going to be bleeding sales, missing an important piece of the "summer reading" period. And they will be annoying the heck out of customers like me, who mistakenly believe what the Chapters-Indigo website says about in-store inventory. The sensible thing for a marketing company to be doing would be to offer an an incentive to would-be buyers to encourage them to place an order and wait.
That young lady this afternoon seemed genuinely uncomfortable about there being no inventory and no certainty about when there might be some. If she had said to me, "I'm sorry, we're temporarily out of stock, but if you want to order one now we'll give you a $X Kobo gift card when you take delivery. You could use the card towards buying one of these covers (they had lots of those), or to buy some books in the Kobo store," I would probably have followed her to the cash register and given her my credit card.
She didn't do that because no one has told her she can. Chapters-Indigo has never been very good at merchandising and this experience underlines that. I like Kobo and want to see them succeed. Their parent company's incompetence is not helping them.
I took the screen captures on this page late this evening, about five hours after first viewing the store inventory numbers from my office computer. The numbers changed in that time, with some stores going to zero and others suddenly showing inventory. The specific store I went to also changed, by one unit less than earlier today. Does Chapters-Indigo have a modified magic 8-ball routine randomizing those numbers every few hours?
There is no way I am buying a Sony. Been there and been through that hell. The Nook isn't available up here north of the 49th. So now I'm debating, wait for the Kobo or buy the Kindle. What would you do?
reposted under a CC license from