Finessing Reality

(commentary)

Recently I’ve gotten a few comments from readers about comments that Nikon executives made about how certain cameras are doing in the marketplace. 

For example, Nikon apparently is claiming that “it’s difficult to keep the Df in stock in some countries.” Now the usual interpretation of this on the Internet is that the Df is popular and selling out. Nope. Nikon’s marketing is making mistakes again, and they’re hoist on their own petard. 

Remember, Nikon makes and serializes cameras to individual regions. Once a camera is packaged and shipped to NikonUSA, it isn’t going to get drop shipped back to Japan for sale there if demand warrants it. You’ll note that in the US the Df has never seemed to go out of stock. Interpretation? They shipped more cameras to the US than demand sold. In Japan the Df has been in and out of stock. Interpretation? Nikon underestimated demand in Japan and shipped too few there. In other words, if Nikon can’t keep the camera in stock in some regions, they simply haven’t done enough surveying to truly understand demand. That’s actually one of the problems of being secretive about upcoming products: you can’t really properly assess demand in a region because you can’t tip your hand about the product. 

Auto makers spend a lot of time and energy disguising real product from fake. When they do customer reaction studies prior to launch, they tend to bring a mix of many prototypes, and those tend to have very different “hot button” changes from which they can gauge response to specific things (styling, inclusion of a specific feature, colors, and much more). The actual vehicle that they’re likely to sell may not even be in the mix exactly as it will sell, thus someone being surveyed (1) doesn’t know which vehicle is the one that’s coming; and (2) even if they can figure it out, they can’t describe it perfectly as it will be sold. 

My basic guess is that Nikon misjudged regional demand quite dramatically for the Df, and then because of their use of locked-to-subsidiary product they can’t readjust inventory to match actual demand. 

Meanwhile, we have product that goes the other way, too. Tried to find a Nikon AW1 in the US lately? Or the 10mm AW lens? (Hint: try Best Buy, which seemed to have picked up a bunch that they never sold.) Here in the US AW1’s are tough to find, and NikonUSA doesn’t seem to have any real inventory to ship to dealers quickly if a customer does come into a dealer wanting one. I know this partly because I have a Galapagos Photo Workshop coming up and a lot of the students decided that the AW1 was probably the best choice for a snorkeling camera, but can’t find one. (Why the AW1? It’s virtually the only out-of-the-box waterproof camera that shoots raw. Which just goes to show why the Coolpix AW and Olympus Tough cameras have limits to their sales, too.) 

These aren’t the first mistakes Nikon has made on placing inventory lately. Indeed, given that NikonUSA lists the D600, D3100, D3200, D5100, D5200, D7000, and D90 cameras as “current” and you can still buy them as new in the US tells you that Nikon either decided that they were just going to overstock the US and sell multiple generations of cameras simultaneously (unlikely) or they just over shipped into the lull of DSLR sales here (much more likely). 

My sense is that Nikon’s logistical prowess in matching inventory to sales is long gone or wasn’t actually true in the first place. The fast rising tide of the first decade of digital basically hid the fact that Nikon isn’t very locked into actual demand. Couple that with the specific-subsidiary-only shipments, and you get these currents that disrupt the supply chain when demand slackens. 

Bottom line is that Nikon isn’t acting very globally, and is now getting whacked by regional variations when they make mistakes in demand interpretation. Consider the alternative: strip the region-specific content out of the box (mostly manual) and put that online, kill the region-specific serial numbers, and institute a repair anywhere policy and Nikon could have easily addressed the lack of Df models available in certain countries and the lack of AW1 in the US by simply transshipping inventory. 


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