Stalking the Wii

I've been curious about the Nintendo (OTC BB: NTDOY.PK) Wii from day one. The little gaming console that everyone seems to love has been a big part of the success for this Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection.

Until about 10 days ago, getting a Wii wasn't even a thought in my mind. I simply didn't have the time to get one, but recently I've had a little less studying to do, and with the extra time I decided to go Wii hunting. I'm also exactly the kind of casual gaming customer Nintendo is targeting and hoping to reach in order to expand the video game market. For reference, the last video game system I owned was a Christmas present received about 20 years ago.

The hunt
In simple terms, Wiis are still quite scarce. Rumor has it that they're now plentiful in the exurbs and in rural areas, but in the metro D.C. area, Wiis are still like Bigfoot: Every so often someone will claim a sighting, but you can never verify it for yourself. Many online retailers have made additional units available every week, but they sell out in hours, or sometimes minutes.

If I wanted a Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) PS3, there's no problem picking one up, and the recent $100 price drop isn't causing any inventory outages that I could see. Likewise, getting a Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Xbox 360 isn't terribly difficult unless I really wanted the newest version with the large hard drive.

For everything but clothes and food I prefer to shop online. No crowds, shipping is often free, and comparing prices across retailers is very simple. But with the Wii it didn't matter if I was shopping online or offline, because the inventory didn't last anywhere -- with the exception being third-party sellers charging 150% or more of MSRP and some bundles that required purchasing four or more games with the Wii console.

But my experience with bricks-and-mortar retailers was even worse. Checking Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) , Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) , and Target didn't yield anything. I was able to get numerous Circuit City (NYSE: CC  ) shops in the area to admit having inventory as early as Friday of last week and find more stores listed with inventory as of the weekend, but none of them would sell the inventory before Sunday. On more than one occasion sales associates informed me I would need to come before 6 a.m. and hope to get one of the vouchers when the store opened. I don't blame the retailers. If creating a carnival atmosphere and having people squat in front of their stores somehow benefits them -- and customers tolerate it -- I see no reason why retailers should change.

Just when I had given up and decided to forget about the Wii, I managed to find some in stock at a small online retailer -- and to top it off, at MSRP. If you're searching for a Wii and not the type to be up at the crack of dawn, I'd recommend checking online retailers. There are even a few inventory tracking tools available to help with the search and you don't have to run around from store to store.

Who is buying the Wii?
This whole experience has me wondering how many casual gaming fans have actually managed to get their hands on a Wii. By definition these fans won't be lining up outside at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. and waiting hours for a store to open before buying a gaming system. Nor will they sit in front of their PCs constantly checking inventories or pay above the MSRP for the console. Casual gamers expect to be able to buy the system and just play. Nintendo might reach this group eventually and expand the market, but thus far getting a Wii requires either a little bit of luck or the rabid determination that only hard-core gamers are known for.

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Microsoft, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value selections.

Nathan Parmelee owns shares of Microsoft. He doesn't own shares in any of the other companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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