Surface Pro Scarcity: Colossal Fail Or Planned Demand?

Microsoft Surface Pro customers, bedazzled by break-dancing pop-hop dance moves and flashy covers from endless Super Bowl-week commercials, were more than a little disappointed and wondering where the hell all these tablets were this weekend?

Fire Up The Wayback Machine

I didn't want to buy a Surface Pro this weekend - or, really, ever - but a lot of what I was hearing over the Internet from the friends and colleagues this weekend reminded me of the exact situation that happened when the iPad 2 came out.

Faked out by advance reports that the iPad 2 would be sold outside of the Apple store, I went to local stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy back in 2011 only to learn that each store only received one or two of the units to sell. Each.

So forgive me if this sounds familiar. After Microsoft's Panos Paney blogged that the company was working to "replenish supplies as quickly as possible," commenter Chris James responded:

"I went to three Best Buys, and two Future Shops. Sold out everywhere. Not one place had a display model to show off the Surface Pro either. Am I disappointed? Of course, I was really looking forward to 'trading-up' my iPad 4 for the Surface Pro, but most of all I am just blown away at the incompetence and total willingness to accept that failure as an option, and then make it seem as though it was a great success for Microsoft."

Other commenters on the same blog entry were less charitable in their opinions. Wrote commenter RB255:

"What amazes me is that many reporters are helping to perpetuate this as simply a supply issue when, in fact, it was a blatant attempt to defraud the public. Microsoft did not ship ample supplies except in a few exceptions. Most Best Buy stores across the country received ONE unit each, and I know this for fact as I have been following up with research after trying to buy one on Saturday morning. Staples stores did not get any 128 model Pro in most stores and indicate that you will have to order them. You cannot order them online at either store. The Microsoft store claimed to have units on Saturday but they were holding them for people who had reservations. There was no publicity in advance of the launch about the reservation process, you couldn't do it online, and the number provided online for the Microsoft stores was a call center who knew nothing about the reservations. The entire time that I was in the area of the MS store in Southpark Mall in Charlotte, NC, no one picked up any units. Do more research and then update your story with facts. Go check out Microsoft, Microsoft Store, and Surface Twitter and Facebook pages and look at the comments from consumers across the country. More did not get the Pro than did and those that did not tell the exact same story. This was not marketing, it was a manufactured 'sellout' and it was a FRAUD."

Plan Or Fail?

It is easy to get riled up and start accusing Microsoft of manufacturing scarcity in order to ratchet up the demand for these tablets. Microsoft, naturally, will disavow themselves of such a dastardly plan.

But here we are, two years after the lessons of the iPad 2 launch that irked so many Apple fans, yet still managed to sell decent unit amounts over the long haul, and you can't help but wonder if all of this scarcity is intentional.

Critics of this notion of planed scarcity will (rightly) ask why in God's name would Microsoft deliberately hold back on units to sell? That's an easy one: they don't want a repeat of HP's TouchPad debacle, when plenty of units were shipped to retailers on launch, coupled with a massive ad and marketing campaign. But despite plenty of units out on the shelves, many units ended up unsold and gathering dust in outlets like Best Buy and Fry's. Ultimately, the units were returned to HP en masse, which led to the shuttering of the TouchPad line.

That scenario - Surface Pros sitting unsold on shelves and gasp! returned to Microsoft - would be the nightmare for Redmond, a PR disaster that would make Vista and Zune look like walks in the park. Rather than face that kind of failure, better to create the feel of high-demand and keep shelf stock low for now.

Because the other option is to freely admit that there is something seriously wrong with the supply chain that Microsoft is using to get these units into retailers' - and ultimately customers' - hands. Like someone-should-get-fired wrong.

It's early yet, but I'm betting no one gets fired for any screw ups with the Surface Pro deliveries. Because you can't screw up what was already planned.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.