In 1997, I traveled far and wide to hunt down an original Tamagotchi. Whereas everyone else had one of the numerous clones, often with many more features, I had to have the real Tamagotchi. When I finally found a store that had them, far away, there was only one left. And it was pink with slime-green highlights.

I was a boy. It really hurt to buy that pink one, and it was such a massive letdown after all that hype and waiting, as I had imagined to get the white egg-like one that I had seen in the video game magazine. That's what a Tamagotchi was supposed to look like. With orange or yellow buttons/highlights. So, while I got an original Tamagotchi, it had a really tasteless and vile colour scheme which took away a lot of the feeling. Instead of proud, I felt kind of ashamed of it. Even as an 11-year-old, I realized this.

Another time, I went to buy a memory card for my PlayStation. All the real, grey ones were out of stock. They did, however, have a semi-transparent greenish one left (still made by Sony). So I had to get that or nothing. Now, all my memories with that console are tied to that ugly-as-sin memory card which I still hate to this day, even in spite of the nostalgia of having owned that particular one rather than the grey, real one.

Same thing another time when I wished for a secondary controller for the same game machine. My parents bought me a bright yellow, third-party one (...), clueless about the fact that this looked very ugly. I never was able to like that controller. I think I even threw it away at some point out of disgust, in spite of being very poor (relatively) and generally very much caring about every dime. It just made me so angry that such an ugly thing existed at all, and that I had got it just because the real ones were out of stock.

I can't tell you how many times I've tried to buy some food product in a grocery store, only to realize that only the disgusting version (such as "extra fiber hamburger buns") is available, the real one out of stock. I seem to continuously get forced into buying products I don't really want just because the one I actually wanted was understocked.

Why do companies do this in the first place? And why do stores always seem clueless in regards to ordering far more of the real thing and perhaps a small few of the ugly ones? Or none at all? Do they not eventually realize that they keep running out of the tasteful/original products and keep getting the ugly, tasteless ones as leftovers for the poor suckers like myself who are desperate but who only buy them out of necessity?

And the argument that "taste varies" doesn't seem to hold up if you look at the facts: the proper/standard ones always seem to get sold out first, and the ugly/disgusting ones are always in stock. I don't understand the mentality of such store managers or company executives.

  • $\begingroup$ Your arguments are quite subjective and opinion based: "the standard ones always seem to get sold out first ..." Please provide some references for your claims. $\endgroup$
    – tdm
    May 31 at 6:02

Confirmation bias

While there could be economic reasons for some of these phenomena, I think you are very likely experiencing confirmation bias. You are retelling personal stories that fit the narrative of

the proper/standard ones always seem to get sold out first, and the ugly/disgusting ones are always in stock.

I have many experiences where I went to buy something and they had the exact variant I wanted. And there were probably instances where they ran out of some other variant, but I was unaware as I was not looking for that. So if companies try to guess which color schemes will sell how many units, they will never get it perfectly right, but I am more likely to remember those occassions where the color variant that I liked ran out first.
(Personally I am baffled by salt & pepper flavoured crackers; who buys those?)

It could well be that my preferred variant is also preferred by the majority of shoppers - one might say the variant is objectively better, I would not - and the company is perhaps even aware of this. However if they guess 75% of people will buy this instead of the actual 85%, the company will still run out of this majority variant while there will be surplusses in other variants. In fact it is likely that some of the more fringe variants - with "ugly" color schemes perhaps - will have surplusses in these cases.

Vertical discrimination

The above is the "guessing and not always getting it right, unevenly remembered by the customer" explanation. However there are also explanations where the company sells an in some sense inferior variant on purpose. The most notable is vertical discrimination/screening by quality. The idea is that the company can put a high price on the premium product and a lower price on the inferior product. The more price sensitive consumers will pick the later, enabling the company to practice second degree price discrimination.

For a nice example and discussion see McAfee's Damaged Goods paper. From the introduction

The 486SX processor of Intel Corporation was initially produced in a curious way. Intel began with a fully functioning 486DX processor, then disabled the math coprocessor, to produce a chip that is strictly inferior to the 486DX but more expensive to produce. Nevertheless, in 1991, the 486DX sold for \$588, and the 486SX for \$333, a little over half the price of the chip that is less expensive to produce (Frenkel, 1991).
We will argue in this paper that this is not an isolated incident, and that many manufacturers intentionally damage a portion of their production. The obvious reason for doing so is to permit price discrimination. By producing an inferior substitute, the manufacturer can sell to customers who do not value the superior product so much, without decreasing demand for the superior product very much.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ oh good, it's not that McAfee... $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    May 31 at 9:19
  • $\begingroup$ @user253751 No weird fetishes here :) $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    May 31 at 11:28

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