Why Kindle's Availability at Target Will Just Piss Customers Off

Last Updated Jun 1, 2010 4:36 PM EDT

Amazon Kindle at TargetKindle "practically flew off the shelves," during Target's (TGT) 100-store test to sell Amazon's (AMZN) popular e-reader last month. But instead of waiting to roll out an upgraded version (now expected in August) to all of Target's 1,740 U.S. outlets in time for back-to-school shopping, both e-tailer and retailer are pushing the old Kindle out at the end of the week.

It's a great way to piss customers off.

Last week, I reported on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' misguided sales strategy to focus only on "serious readers" as a way to compete with Apple's (APPL) iPad. While Bezos admitted that the bookish pool comprised only about 10 percent of households, he seems to think that at least some of them are buying books by the armload at Target. Along with toilet paper and toothpaste perhaps? Yet he's sticking to his guns -- and Kindle's greyscale technology -- to provide these dedicated readers with a superior digital experience as he believes a high-quality color version is "still some way out."

Well, it turns out that in Bezos-speak "not ready for prime time" means a couple of months. According to a Bloomberg report, a new, slimmer Kindle is on its way, complete with a more responsive screen and sharper images.

This revamped Kindle won't have color or touchscreen technology, but it's still an upgrade. So even if Bezos plans to distribute this new Kindle exclusively online, it's going to suck for Target customers who deliberated long enough to be able to actually play with a demo device, then shelled out 259 of their hardâ€"earned dollars, to know they've gotten the old model.

Rather than rushing an old product onto its shelves, Target management could have seized this opportunity to formulate an exclusive roll-out strategy with Bezos, allowing both companies to capture sales.

Target has become well-versed in the art of building anticipation among its customers, then exceeding all sales expectations, as can be seen in many of its collaborations with top designers. The runaway success of Liberty of London merchandise and the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Cynthia Vincent shoe collection speak volumes to Target's well-timed releases of covetable consumables.

With a similar sales plan for Kindle, the device could have hit Target stores and Amazon's online marketplace simultaneously in August -- a time when both bricks and clicks are heavily trafficked by back-to-school shoppers. Add a promotion that bundles Amazon e-books with purchase of a device from Target and Bezos would have a whole new set of customers traipsing through his marketplace (and away from Apple's iBookshelf). Then he could sit back and let all those "serious readers" do what they do best -- download more books.

Instead, both companies will look like they're peddling old equipment. And that's just going to make each look worse next to Apple and the iPad.

Image via TFTS