Monday, December 03, 2007

Here's a fun game: Try to buy a Wii

As shopping season kicks off, store-stalkers turn to Internet

A year after the Nintendo Wii started out a distant third to Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3 in the video game hype wars, the tables have turned.

Savvy shoppers are resorting to special tactics to track down the hard-to-find Wiis, which have benefited from a year's worth of word-of-mouth marketing to remain at the top of wish lists as the holiday shopping season formally kicks off today.

Although Nintendo of America spokeswoman Anka Dolecki said the company will have twice as many Wiis available as it did at the product's launch last November, desperation is likely to grow as demand is expected to match supply between now and Christmas.

As of Wednesday, Wii shelves were empty at Best Buy, Target, Circuit City, Toys R Us and GameStop stores, according to, which updates supplies at online retailers. Wal-Mart had the consoles in stock but only as a bundle with games and other accessories for more than $600. The console alone retails for $250.

Nintendo has sold more than 5.5 million units in the United States over the last 12 months. Local stores say they will get more shipments before Christmas, but they don't know when or how many.

Employing new techniques

While many shoppers will rely on the store-stalking technique they used to find elusive Cabbage Patch Kids and Tickle Me Elmo dolls of holidays past, they're also turning to the Internet. Sites like, and monitor online inventories at major retailers.

And of course Wiis are available through various classified ads and online auction sites — for premium prices.

"I check Craig's List at this time of year at least 10 times a day," said Valerie Bergeron, a personal shopper in Houston who is currently on the hunt for three Wiis.

"If you waited this long, you're going to have to pay," she said. "That's pretty much the bottom line."

Or get lucky. And there are some ways to increase your odds when seeking Wiis or any other items that might emerge as hard-to-find must-gets. But just like in Las Vegas, the odds are against you.

Houstonian Elaine Gayle calls every area Best Buy store at least once a week. She not only checks whether they have any currently in stock but also when the next delivery is expected and whether they'll open it that day.

"Basically, I stalk them," she said.

Her boyfriend recently got lucky at a Wal-Mart store. There weren't any Wiis on the shelf, but he took the extra step of asking a clerk whether they had any in back. And they had one. The couple is still looking for two more before Christmas.

Gayle is doing all the right things, said Greg Rundell, general manager at the Best Buy near The Galleria.

"The relationship you build with the staff is going to help," he said.

Jennifer Castillo has been using similar tactics at area Target stores.

"I've been stalking Target on a weekly basis," said the Houston mother who wants to buy a Wii for her two sons. "I've been to multiple Targets in the last two weeks."

A waiting game

A clerk at one Houston Target said the store is more likely to have Wiis available on a Sunday because that's when its inserts run in the newspaper.

Castillo also enlisted the help of her sister, who lives in a smaller city in Michigan. She's hoping there will be less demand for the Wii there.

Bergeron said she has beaten the odds and found hard-to-find gifts by going to big-box stores in smaller towns, but it still requires luck. Small-town stores may have fewer competing shoppers, but they're also likely to have a wee Wii supply to begin with, she said.

Knowing a store's delivery and advertising schedules can help, but unless a shopper has enough free time to hang out and wait for the UPS shipments, it's still going to come down to luck, said Rundell.

"It's really hit or miss," he said. "We're going to have an ad (timed to a delivery) in December. We just don't know when it's going to be."

Or you can follow personal shopper Bergeron's other tip: "Hire a personal shopper."

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