Why 'In-Store Availability' Is Very Seldom Accurate

Illustration by Elena Scotti/LIFEHACKER/GMG, Shutterstock

A couple weeks ago I drove myself mad looking for a Nintendo Switch. I checked store after store—12 in total—using the “available in-store” listings you find on retailer’s websites as my guide. Each one would say they had a few consoles up for grabs, but when I got there, nada. So I began to wonder if you could ever really trust a store’s website for item availability. The answer, it turns out, is a resounding “nope.”

Now, I knew that finding a Switch was a long shot, and I knew trusting a store’s website was a little naive. I’m not an idiot. If I really wanted a Switch, I should have preordered like everybody else. But this highlighted a problem I’ve had many times in the past. I search for an item online, perk up when I see that it’s in stock nearby, then excitedly skip my way to the store with my pretty wicker basket only to be disappointed when it’s not actually there. A bookstore’s site says it has a book but when I show up they tell me “Oh, I’m sorry, we must have sold it earlier today.” An electronics store says it has a movie but they tell me “Sorry dude, our count must’ve been off.” A toy store says it has a hot new toy but they tell me “Sorry sir, that sold out in minutes and you shouldn’t be buying Hatchimals because you’re a grown man.”

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