‘Limited Quantities’ Make Customers Angry

Discussion
Nov 29, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


It’s common legal wording. A retailer runs an ad on a promotion item and includes provisos such as “while supplies last,” “limited quantities,” or “no rainchecks,” to let consumers know there is not an endless supply of product and that sales are made on a first-come, first-served basis.


While the practice of running limited supply items at a really low, sometimes even loss leader, price can be very effective, it doesn’t make the consumers who were unable to
get the desired product any happier when they find out it is no longer available.


Such was the case with a consumer from New York State who went to a local Wal-Mart last Friday at 3 a.m. to wait outside for the store to open at five so he could buy a $398 HP laptop advertised by the retailer.


When the consumer, Greg DiNunzio, entered the store at 5 a.m., he asked a Wal-Mart associate where he could find the laptop. It was then he was informed they were already gone.


Mr. DiNunzio told the Times Herald-Record, “I said, ‘How can they be all gone? The rope hasn’t even been cut yet!’ She said, ‘Oh, we only had 22 of the laptops. Tickets were issued for them, and they’ve already been sold.’ “


Sharon Weber, a Wal-Mart spokesperson, expressed regret but said the company was fair in how they handled the promotion.


“We only wish the best for our customers, and people are very sad when every customer can’t get the item that they want,” she said. “Promotional items came in limited quantities and that’s what our ad said – ‘while supplies last.’ We did the best we could with the numbers that we had to ensure a fair distribution to our stores.”


Mr. DiNunzio told the paper he plans to file a complaint with the New York Attorney General’s Office.


Moderator’s Comment: Do consumers accept out-of-stocks when it comes to limited quantity items or do retailers, in effect, do themselves more harm than
good by advertising such items?

George Anderson – Moderator

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17 Comments on "‘Limited Quantities’ Make Customers Angry"


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Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

To protect customer good will, and also because it’s just the right thing to do, I’d advertise the quantity available right up front in the ad. And, as much as possible, I’d give rainchecks.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 3 months ago

Wake up, fellow retailers. Don’t you understand that the “limited quantities” of specially-priced merchandise at Wal-Mart and other retailers were already spoken for by employees? It’s one of their perquisites (perks). Further, the success of “Black Friday” websites that prematurely “out” sacrosanct Thanksgiving Day ads weeks in advance have given online shoppers early access to “limited offers.” It’s no wonder that all the good stuff is gone before the doors open, and every retail commentator out there with internal experience has experienced this phenomenon.

roberta sims
Guest
roberta sims
15 years 3 months ago
“Who in their right mind would think that quantities would be anything but limited for that HP Laptop?” I’m going to say something not PC here. The whole Black Friday thing has somehow turned into a mindless feeding frenzy. There IS no thought involved on the part of millions of consumers. Have you unlocked one of those doors at 5 am? Have you seen the faces? I have and it reminded me of nothing so much as “Dawn of the Dead.” Must buy something…must buy something. Whether the promotions make people stupid or whether the consumer has become so lazy that they’re happy to be lead by the nose, I don’t know. Just because it “works” doesn’t mean it’s right. Ask the question again after a few people get shot waiting in line. As for me, I try to shop as much as possible at quirky, locally owned stores and online. Yes, I do go to big box stores…on weekdays and at odd hours. My emotional well-being is far more important than trying to save… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Most people probably know that if they aren’t at the store long before the doors open (at sometimes outrageously early hours, as last week) then there is no chance of getting one of these promotional items so decide not to bother and lose interest in whatever else the retailer may have on offer. Seems to me a foolproof way of losing business rather than gaining it.

Tom McGoldrick
Guest
Tom McGoldrick
15 years 3 months ago

My 8 year old daughter saw the ad for the $398 HP laptop and wanted us to go and get one. I told her that they were “limited quantity” and would definitely be gone by the time we got to the store. She immediately wanted to know how they could get away with lying like that. I started to explain that it was not a lie since they mentioned, “quantities are limited” …. then stopped.

I don’t know were the line is when the phrase “quantities are limited” is used but it is more than zero and for a store with the volume of a Wal-Mart, probably above 22. It may not be illegal but is also not right. Wasn’t Wal-Mart built on “everyday low prices”?

Mark Barnhouse
Guest
Mark Barnhouse
15 years 3 months ago

It’s amazing that Wal-Mart, with what is one of the biggest ongoing PR problems of any retailer in American history, would infuriate its loyal customers this way. Do the geniuses in the buying department understand that the PR people struggle daily to put a positive spin on the corporation’s image? The best way to create good PR is to repeatedly give the customer what she wants, and if HP couldn’t make enough cheap laptops to meet customer demand (could this be the problem?), they should never have promoted them for the holidays.

Tony Orlando
Guest
15 years 3 months ago
Middle class consumers today are trained to wait for sales. They can shop in any number of places and get the exact same item, so the crazy world of retailing has done itself in. There is very little loyalty to any store, unless you bring great deals to the table every day, not just on Black Friday. In my humble little establishment, I do not limit hot deals, rather I buy huge quantities of the item, or it doesn’t get advertised. Instead, if I have less than I think, I’ll send it online to my e-mail clients, as an internet only deal. It keeps them interested, and makes them feel special. Any excess quantities get sold off to the walk in trade, until the deal is gone. I’m buying a huge cooler next year to make room for more super deals, and I always put “while supply lasts,” “no limit” to make the early birds get their share. You’ll never please everyone, but if you’re going to run a hot crazy special, then be prepared… Read more »
Kai Clarke
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Limited quantities or similar phrasing is a part of accepted sales promotions. Anyone who doesn’t expect OOSs on a sales item is not reflecting real-world retail conditions. However, Wal-Mart’s position on selling products to customer’s without a true presence (prior to an ad breaking) borders the line of bait and switch tactics. Reasonable and viable expectations for product availabilities should be communicated whenever a spectacular ad is placed, so that the purchasing public can include this information as part of their buying assumptions. The auto industry does this as a matter of standard practice. This is only good habit for maintaining excellent consumer relations and communication.

Vincent Restucci
Guest
Vincent Restucci
15 years 3 months ago
I think that Black Friday is truly a Black Eye for many retailers with massive limited quantities and out of stocks. My stepfather and father-in-law got to Circuit City at 3:30 a.m. for a 5 a.m. opening to get a $198 laptop. The flyer said a “minimum” of 15 per store. At 4 a.m., the parking lot was full and there were over 200 people in line. Being friendly retirees, they started polling people in line and most of them wanted the laptop. So they went to Denny’s and came back at the opening at 5. They picked up some other items they wanted and waited in a line for 30 minutes that didn’t move and put down their items and walked out. Several hundred dollars of merchandise not sold. As they left, they had to walk through an equally long line waiting to get into Linens & Things that was blocking the parking lot. People were frustrated and really mad at the out of stocks in both stores. I think retailers, in general, had… Read more »
Deborah Thompson
Guest
Deborah Thompson
15 years 3 months ago

These “specials” to get people into the store do more harm than good. Example: I went to Linens ‘n Things for an item advertised in their sale flyer–a 500 pc set of poker chips in a nice case for $29.99, regular price $69.99. Needless to say, they were all gone. A very helpful sales clerk assisted me by finding her sales flyer so I could point out what I was looking for. Almost every item in it had “Sold Out” written in black marker over it. I was angry to discover that 75 to 80 percent of their advertised items were all gone within an hour. Either they had 1 or 2 of each item or, even worse, none.

Luckily for me, I went 2 blocks up the street to Macy’s and found a similar set on sale for $34.99 (also pictured in their sales flyer), and they had stacks and stacks of them. I ended up buying two. Can you guess where I’ll be shopping more from now on?

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

There’s a big difference between having a reasonable quantity, versus having a token quantity. Retailers who have only a token quantity should have their ads say something like, “Only 10 per store.” Either way, when you run out, you make enemies. Limiting your sale items is An Officially Endorsed Policy of the Sales Prevention Institute.

Dan Raftery
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

There is also a big difference between ridiculous promotions and legitimate ones. Who in their right mind would think that quantities would be anything but limited for that HP Laptop? Electronics is partially a fad-driven business. Heck, the hot holiday items in this category often go on allotment at full retail. Electronics retailers would be wise to rethink the use of the ridiculous promotion. How about as a reward to their most cherished customers?

Neil Thall
Guest
Neil Thall
15 years 3 months ago

“Limited quantity” advertising is an added annoyance for customers, just one of many (surly service, out of stocks, too few registers, etc.). One reason is that it’s assumed quantities of most discounted items are limited in some manner, so why advertise that? It’s when quantities are severely limited, as in the Wal-Mart example, that customers feel duped. Die-hard customers will continue to show up early to wait in lines to get these limited quantity bargains; others will feel fortunate if the items are not out of stock. “Limited quantity” items probably won’t change buying patterns or anger a significant number of customers enough to make retailers discontinue the practice. However, combined with other annoyances, the customers walk away.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

I find it fascinating that mass retailers are always held accountable when quantities run out on special items yet, when companies like H&M intentionally bring limited quantities of high-demand, short-run designer programs in a few stores and the items sell out immediately (as happened with the recent Stella McCartney collection), it is hailed as a marketing coup! Somehow consumers are ENTITLED to unlimited supplies of advertised products at mass?

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
15 years 3 months ago
Promotions are designed to bring customers into the store. Once there, it makes some sense to have what they are looking for! We all know that the cost of customer acquisition is enormous, and re-acquisition is even higher. This practice of buying limited quantities of the promotional items is simply counterproductive. Think it through. What real difference to the overall enterprise profitability is it if WM sells 100 per store of something they lose money on or 20? None. What real difference does it make to spend the millions in advertising and image enhancement needed to attract the new customers looking for that item….and then disappoint them? The economics have to be simple. The theory goes for any retailer. Honest miscalculations in expected demand are one thing. Everyone makes them; you learn, and go on. Intentional under-buying is short sighted, and a bit like taking poison and waiting for another person to die. Let me see…..here I am, having gotten up ungodly early, drove out of my way to a store I don’t usually shop,… Read more »
Lynn Toler
Guest
Lynn Toler
15 years 3 months ago

As a consumer, limited quantity ads should be administered on a first come, first serve basis. Handing out tickets prior to the beginning of the actual sale is not a good business practice. Consumers become disgruntled when they have waited until the appointed time and then find that the items are not available.

Eric Plautz
Guest
Eric Plautz
15 years 3 months ago

The reason a company cannot advertise the quanities that are available is because no two stores are the same so, in the cases of centralized buying, allocations must be skewed heavily in order to meet the appropriate demand. Within every company, there are always top stores selling 15-20 times more goods than that of the bottom stores.

This problem is only compounded when other retailers allow for the stores to order their merchandise and goods are misallocated due to the fact that the stores, doing the right thing in being entrepreneurial, will try to pick up additional goods and drive their business.

The best that customers can hope for is that retailers will advertise the minimum quantity allocated to each store, and they will have to be savvy enough to know to travel to locations where demand will be lower than supply.

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