Microsoft Surface Pro 128GB, the version of Microsoft Surface tablets that runs Windows 8 Pro, has sold out in the United States within hours of being available online. Is this a sign of success for Microsoft’s tablet endeavor… or is it a sign of clever marketing on the part of Microsoft? My guess is the latter.
You see there is a public relations technique called ‘controlling the narrative’. It is the idea of getting ahead of any negative press you know you are about to receive; if you talk about it first, you can control how it is revealed and control the public’s response. There is a similar concept in marketing, except in marketing you don’t control the narrative — you write the narrative. This appears to be the strategy adopted by Microsoft when it comes to Surface tablets.
You see when a product sells out quickly after launch, it means one of two things. Either the product is extremely popular (such as the case with many Apple products) or the product was understocked (deliberately or due to supply chain constraints or poor management). Because companies rarely release actual numbers, it is often hard to determine which is the case. This is where we stand with the Surface Pro. Did Surface Pro 128GB sellout in the USA because it is insanely popular or because Microsoft understocked it?
Recall how how Surface RT 32GB sold-out within 24-hours of release but sales of the device over the next months indicated a general failure of the device when compared to iPad and Android tablets. This leads me to believe Microsoft understocked Surface RT 32GB for the purposes of generating a buzz about the product. I personally feel the same has been done with Surface Pro 128GB.
My feelings are best described by a comment made on a blog post on Microsoft’s official Surface blog:
Like many others I tried to order online and in the stores. At Midnight the website was still not showing for sale, I tried for 30 minutes then all of a sudden sold out online. Before they even opened for business all Best Buy show unavailable. My 3 local Staples received 2 64gb versions each.
There are 1050 Best Buy stores in the US, there are 1575 Staples stores, Staples seems to have received an average of 2-4 unit and best buy 6-8
If you do the math the max number of retail units you had available at launch was: 15000
While I’m sure Microsoft produced more than 15,000 Surface Pro 128GBs (some estimates put it at 1,000,000 units, or roughly 1/4 of the estimated 4,000,000 Surface RTs available at launch last year), the comment pretty much highlights the issue with a “sell out” — it means nothing. Especially seeing as Microsoft has a history of similar product launches; anyone remember the Zune sellout in 2009?