Determination, Deceit and a Wii Bit of Luck

Some shoppers have turned to online message boards to find unorthodox means to get their hands on a Nintendo Wii.
Some shoppers have turned to online message boards to find unorthodox means to get their hands on a Nintendo Wii. (Associated Press)

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By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 8, 2007

Sears.com has it in stock!

Oh, wait. Hit the "refresh" button on the Web browser, and -- scratch that. Sears doesn't have the Nintendo Wii in stock anymore.

For a while yesterday, regulars at WiiTracker.com, a Web site that has sprung up to keep track of online vendors that have the hard-to-find video game console, had an edge on landing the system in time for the holidays.

In case you missed the news, the Wii has again become the hot, hard-to-get item this season, even though the device has been on the market for a year. Thanks to the shortage, a mini-industry of shopping advice has popped up to address the anxieties of those hoping to land the system in time for the holidays.

The Wii's runaway success owes to its relative simplicity; instead of pressing buttons and moving joysticks, players swing a wandlike controller as if they were actually playing tennis or golf. Nintendo hasn't offered guidance to shoppers wanting a Wii other than to "stay in touch with your local retailer."

The Japanese game maker has said it upped production to meet demand, but with the dearth in stores, some Web sites are offering detailed strategies on how to acquire one.

One Wii fan site advises shoppers on how best to draw workers at game and electronics stores into discussions about their Wii supply. "Don't ask when the next shipment will come in," because most employees don't know this information, advises one writer identified as "mercinary" at WiiChat.com. Instead, "mercinary"wrote, Wii hunters should ask when the last shipment came in: "This is a question they can actually answer and gets the conversation going."

Some sites offer advice on how to play high-tech subterfuge: One tells its readers a code they can supposedly punch in on price scanners at Target to see whether there are any Wiis in the stockroom.

Other advice: Go to a game store in a remote area. People in the Midwest, and in Canada, aren't reporting as much trouble getting a Wii.

Thanks to eBay, of course, shoppers can get whatever gifts they want under the Christmas tree. It's just a matter of how much they're willing to pay.

Natalie Truax, a mother in Denham Springs, La., bought a Wii on eBay in early November. She paid almost $100 more than the $249 retail price, but her speculative buy was a good one. She pounced early in the holiday season, before auction prices for the system soared even higher.

"I knew things would get truly crazy the closer we got to the holiday," she said. She'd just as soon have no game consoles in the house for her sons to play, "but, since they have requested a Wii from Santa, what do you do?"

Jon Mason, a San Diego gamer, bought a Wii "bundle" at GameStop.com after figuring out a trick on his own. Bundles are a way for game and electronics stores to maximize their profits by including a pile of games and game accessories with the console.

Mason figured that just because he bought all that stuff, it didn't mean he had to keep it. He paid more than $600 for the Wii, an extra controller, a memory card, and five or six games. He then returned all that equipment, except for the system and the extra controller, to his local GameStop retail store -- and got a lot of his money back.

"The manager at my local GameStop was just laughing at me, wondering why more people hadn't thought to do what I did," Mason wrote in an e-mail.

Alas, that loophole appears to have closed. GameStop.com's return policy now says that customers aren't allowed to return items that were bought as part of a bundle.

In many cases, the prevailing lesson is no different than lucking out in other aspects of life: Be in the right place at the right time.

"Finding a Wii was like finding a great girlfriend or something," wrote one participant in a chat on washingtonpost.com this week. "I just had to stop stressing about it, and then I suddenly lucked into one at Target one day."


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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