SportsProf

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Tales from the Land of the Nintendo Wii

The last time I blogged about this, I expressed my frustration about finding a Nintendo Wii. I didn't know how hard it would be, say, in early November, to locate one of these game units. I figured I'd walk into my local Best Buy, ask some high school kid who worked there to get one from the back, and I'd pay for it and put it away for the holidays. Sounds simple, right?

Silly me.

One sales associate simply told me that they were out of them and that she didn't know when they'd get any more. When I asked if she could check with store management, she told me that they didn't know, either.

Another sales associate, even younger than the first one, looked at me as if I had small pox.

"Hey, Dad, get a clue, would you? As if we have them in this store? Where have you been, with your head in the Delaware River? They're only, like, the most popular thing on the planet right now."

She didn't actually say that, but as they say, pictures paint a thousand words. Economizing, I translated her glare of incredulity into several dozen demeaning ones. I suppose when you're selling a very hot commodity whose demand is, at the moment, inelastic, well, you can offend whom you choose. Besides, in all likelihood she won't be working there in a year, and, well, it's not as though Best Buy has superlative competition. When you read the "hot" management books, you realize that Best Buy is a model for getting customers what they want, depending on the communities in which they live.

Okay, so they whiffed on the Wii a bit, but the list of those who fanned mightily in meeting demand is endless, while the list of those who connected doesn't exist.

At any rate, my wife and I tried to figure out the best way to get a Wii for the kids. We heard that if you waited in line at Toys 'R Us, you had a good shot. Apparently, there was a story circulating that on a few different days they actually had 70 units at a time, which probably had to be a Guinness World Record for the number of units received at one time. Okay, at least in Southeastern Pennsylvania, or my corner of it. The lines outside the local Best Buys and Circuit City were absurd, especially on Black Friday. I had thought about getting up at 4 a.m. to hit the local Best Buy at its 5 a.m. opening.

As the high-school kid who worked there would have said with a daggers-like look, "As if." As it turned out, people had begun to camp outside the store for Wiis and other products starting at about 10 p.m. Thanksgiving night. Had I gotten up at 4 a.m., well, I would have been say a quarter mile down the road, about 400th in line and way out of contention for a Wii. That meant that I would have ventured down to the local Wal-Mart to buy a much-needed pair of Wrangler jeans for $14.54 (the Dale Earnhart memorial model fetches an additional $5 bucks, and I'm just not a NASCAR kind of guy).

And they don't give rain checks, either.

Try ordering on-line, and, well, fuggedaboutit! (Unless you wanted to pay a premium on Amazon or eBay, but what's the challenge in that? And, besides, I was fundamentally opposed paying above retail for this game unit. Call me crazy, perhaps, but that's the beauty of the marketplace -- the unit only has a certain value for us).

A family friend's high-school aged son works at Circuit City, so why tried to glean some intelligence from him. But he didn't know much, either, and it seemed as though store management either kept the kids who work there intentionally in the dark so that the public actually had a puncher's chance of buying a Wii (translated: even in the world of Big Box retail, passing along insider information is a no-no) or they themselves didn't know when the UPS man would arrive with the blessed units.

So, we decided for the time being to write off the "Big Box" stores, for the simple reason that the days were getting shorter and the temperatures colder, we have lives, and, well, who knows on a daily basis when the lines started outside these stores and whether they'd have units in there to sell to begin with. We just weren't going to stand outside at some crazy hour for at least a quarter of a day to have a chance to buy a Wii.

And, remember, they don't give rain checks.

We weren't despairing, however, because we made full disclosure to the kids, who are pretty patient, that we'd get the unit when we'd get it and not sooner. They were cool to it, and after checking up once or twice on my wife and her quest, only to hear that she struck out looking, they decided to give her some space and not ask.

Kind of like adhering to the adage that a watched pot never boils.

Smart kids.

I then got into a conversation with a gamer who sits near me at work, a twenty-something who seemed well-versed in all things electronic and video. I told him of our dilemma and asked him what he thought would be the best place to find a Wii.

That was an easy question: GameStop. (I trust fully that had I asked him about the fundamental interworkings of his job description, he'd be able to answer that in a heartbeat too).

That was a good answer, for while there are GameStops at strip shopping centers, they also exist in enclosed malls that have many entrances and where you really can't line up say at 10 p.m. for a 10 a.m. open. There's really no point to it. And, thankfully, there's one such enclosed mall with a GameStop in it near us.

Fortified with that information, my wife ventured to this mall before the 10 a.m. open. Once the mall opened, and fullycognizant of the precise location of the GameStop and the best entrance to the mall to get to the store as it opened, she went there on a Monday and stood in line. She was number 8, bonded with her fellow line people, and actually struck up a productive conversation about elementary education. The clock slowly ticked, and when the GameStop team was ready for the open, they announced that they had six units.

Six units.

No consolation prize for being eighth in line.

Rats!

Double rats!

Did I say they don't give rain checks?

Now, the protocol for those who are first, second, third and fourth runners up is that you wait in line until the transactions inside the store are concluded. Why? Because on occasion, those with the golden tickets, so to speak, went up to pay, only to learn that they were maxed out on their credit cards. Meaning, of course, that a runner up took his/her place and bought the precious Wii.

No such luck, for us, this time, although, quite frankly, we really didn't want to benefit from someone else's misery.

Not to let herself get defeated easily, my wife ventured to the mall the very next day. Deploying starting-block speed worthy of a participant at the NFL's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, she improved her position to fifth in line at the GameStop. Perhaps it was a little bold showing up the very next day, as our intelligence had told us that daily deliveries had been the exception. At any rate, she struck up conversations with alumni of the line from the day before, and then the moment of truth arrived. That morning, GameStop had 24 units to sell.

Needless to say, I could tell from my wife's tone of voice when she rang me at the office that she had been successful before she even could tell me. She did add that she felt a tad envious towards those who were numbers say 15-24, because she was eighth the day before and struck out while those virtual stragglers had come up with the prize, perhaps even on the first try.

Perhaps they should have gone out and bought Powerball tickets too.

So give the Wii to the kids we did, and they proceeded to play all sorts of games. The kids beat the living daylights out of us in bowling, box each other (using the Wii, of course, in virtual fashion) on occasion, get hustled by me in golf and have some fun on the tennis court. I blast everybody to smithereens on the shooting drill, but somehow manage to steer the cow into the fence more often than not in the cow races. I have tried to teach the kids the angles of a good game of eight-ball (and failed), and the hockey game draws some of the most vicious competition among all family members, otherwise serene Mom included. As a famous coach used to say, we play to win.

I also have discovered that amidst my daily workouts, I've developed some soreness in my right shoulder from swinging the Wii "stick" (or whatever they call it) to simulate a golf swing or bowling a bowling ball. Yes, Wii is lawyered up and has all the appropriate warnings about overuse on its packaging, and it's probably a good idea to deploy ice or at least ibuprophen if you get hooked initially and play too many games in too short a period of time, especially if you sit at a desk for a living.

Overall, though, the effort was worth it and the fun is there.

New Age gurus stress the importance of the journey over the destination, and, while we take some satisfaction from the journey, it really proved to be a pain in the butt.

The destination, though, is terrific.

What will they think of next?

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