What we're hearing about the Xbox 360 being "sold out" at certain online retailers is probably a bunch of horse poo (and the Motley Fool link below agrees), but the funny thing about product shortages is that the mere hint of a shortage is often enough to actually create the shortage.
Just for fun, let's pretend we're Microsoft. (Woo! Yahoo!) Ok, now that the excitement of being rich is over, let's also pretend that we want to sell a bunch of Xbox 360s. Here's how we "game the system" to create frenzy for our product:
Give every online retailer an initial tiny allotment so that they'll be forced to tell their customers that they've sold out of their first shipment (example)
Let the media catch wind of the "sold out" stories and amplify them (example)
Hope that consumers start to worry about getting an Xbox 360 in time for the holidays
Hope for the Xbox 360 to make the "Must-have toys for holiday 2005" lists, where editors and writers will inevitably mention shortage concerns
Maybe even plant a few Xbox 360s at crazy prices on eBay ( example)
Who us? Conspiracy theory much? It just makes too much sense for Microsoft to play the product launch like this. Heck, Sony did it with the PSP by talking about Beanie Baby / Cabbage Patch Doll shortages during their launch party for the PSP (turns out, there was no shortage after all).
The bottom line: if people were rational, you'd be able to walk into just about any store on November 22nd and obtain an Xbox 360. But all it takes is a little, good, old-fashioned FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) to drive sales through the roof and make this rumor a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When was the last time you heard about a product shortage that actually proved to be true?