Did Nikon Make a Mistake?

It was interesting to watch how Nikon rolled out the Z6 II and Z7 II in the holiday season. It reminds me of why holiday releases are fraught with peril. 

With the Z6 II, the US received body+24-70mm f/4 kits in November, while Japan didn't get that kit initially. As it was, the Z6 II kit went in and out of stock in the US during the holidays. Body-only availability didn't seem to happen in the US, or if it did, it was in very small numbers (and NPS Priority Purchase?). Meanwhile, the Z7 II barely showed up. A few lucky individuals got their bodies, but overall numbers were again very low, basically almost the one-per-dealer mark outside of NPS PP. As far as I know, no kits were available in the initial, minimal dealer stocking.

In short, NikonUSA might be happy because it feels like the new models "sold out." But they should actually be concerned, as they weren't able to meet demand, and demand doesn't stick around forever in the constantly changing world of cameras.

I've long had a problem with the way Nikon releases kits and bodies. The whole thing is driven from a spreadsheet in Japan that Nikon believes "maximizes" the dollars. I'm not at all convinced that it does. Moreover, it angers customers, something that Nikon is going to need to stop doing if it wants to return to the number two position in cameras again. 

In essence, Nikon is going against "let the market decide" while trying to micromanage results in a way that benefits Nikon. Put another way, Nikon is arrogant enough to think that they know better than their customers what products to package together or not. I'm pretty sure that Nikon is mistaken, and this holiday season with the Z6 II models would pretty much be evidence number one in my prosecution. 

Here's the thinking from Nikon's perspective:

  • Bundling lenses makes for a higher SKU (stocking unit) price. If Nikon delivers all the bundles first, they believe their initial income on a launch is higher. This assumes that the initial buyers all need a lens. There's a presumption of new users over existing customers here.
  • Bundling means shipping fewer boxes. Moreover, there are cost implications involved. While they're minor on a per box case, they add up fast if all your boxes have that cost reduction. This assumes that Nikon makes and ships the right boxes.

Here's the thinking from the customer's perspective:

  • I can't always get what I want. If the customer wanted the 24-200mm lens with the Z6 II instead of the 24-70mm, they were out of luck for Christmas 2020, because the bundle didn't exist, nor could you build your own because the body-only box wasn't available (and the 24-200mm itself was out of stock much of the time). Many of those folk simply didn't buy. Now, you might say that Nikon can sell them "next quarter," and that would be partially right, but Nikon is essentially ignoring the time value of money. They'd be better off with the sale now, not later. And all it takes is a competitor's new camera launch to take the luster off the II models.
  • My lenses are getting devalued. Some people just buy the bundle they can get and then resell the lens (because they already have it or they wanted a different lens that wasn't in a bundle). eBay is full of 24-70mm f/4 lenses right now because of that. Nikon's forced bundling is creating over supply of some lenses, and as we all know, excess supply means things devalue. 

The bottom line is the same as I've been writing for decades now: Nikon isn't very friendly to its customers, and it isn't getting friendlier. That's despite the fact that the easiest sale for Nikon to make is to a previous customer. Why would you intentionally make things more difficult for that previous customer? 

Nikon continues to wonder why customers leak out to Fujifilm or Sony. Well, this is one of the reasons why. Not necessarily directly, but the continued assumptions about customers putting up with whatever it is Nikon thinks is best for themselves is a huge friction. It makes customers pay closer attention to all the other attributes of the system and support. Oh, third party repairs are being killed. Oh, a promised firmware update took far longer than expected. Oh, they still haven't fixed one of the major complaints about the previous gear. Oh, they've cut NPS support staff again. Eventually all the built-up friction gets so great that people don't buy at all.

I'd argue that the proper approach is what I call "build a bundle." Ship bodies, ship lenses. Apply an instant discount when bought and registered together. (That last part is important to keep dealers from gaming the system.) 

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