By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine
This year's "must have" Christmas present for thousands of families is the Nintendo Wii games console. But with demand outstripping supply, pressured parents are turning to unorthodox methods to secure one.
Demand for the Wii is global
Tracy Island, Furbies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - in their time, each of these toys has created a frenzy among Christmas shoppers desperate not to disappoint their children on the day.
This year, the Nintendo Wii is topping Christmas' "must have" list, and so proving as elusive as the endangered black-crested macaque monkey.
But instead of giving up, some indomitable shoppers are sharpening their elbows online and turning to stock-alert websites - the latest tool in tracking down where to buy those hard-to-find items.
Parent chatrooms are abuzz with talk of such sites, some of which search suppliers' websites round the clock to find out when and where the latest consignment has landed. Tips and tactics for using them are also traded.
Anna Liddle found out about Wii stock-alert sites on a parenting website. She'd been searching store websites for a Wii, but without any luck.
"I read about the sites and all the tips that would give me the best chance of getting a Wii. I had to be committed, and it took a few weeks, but I got one."
Avid gamer Darren McKillop created his first stock alert site after trying to get an Xbox 360 when it first came out. He has since quit his job as a web architect to run his stock-alert sites full-time.
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Source: Retail Decisions
It's a competitive market and he will not reveal how his sites work, but they claim to scan the big suppliers every 60 seconds. If stock has arrived in a shop in the last minute the user is alerted by a beeping sound.
Mr McKillop's sites are all dedicated to gaming and he says his wii-consoles.co.uk site gets 120,000 users a day. Others stock alert sites include stocknetwork.co.uk, wiifind.co.uk and wiipreorder.co.uk.
"The internet was my job so I knew a lot about it already, but it's taken a couple of years to fine tuned the technology."
Such sites are becoming immensely popular, says Tom Dunmore, editor-in-chief of Stuff magazine and website.
"People are desperate for any way to get ahead of the competition," he says. "Some sites are more reliable than others but I managed to get a Wii using one, although it was quite an expensive package."
Thrill of the chase
Retailers have taken note of their popularity and some are now issuing stock alert e-mails themselves, says Mr Dunmore.
But for some it's about the thrill of the chase, rather than the product itself.
"The sites can be quite addictive," says Mrs Liddle. "I'm not your typical gaming person, but getting a Wii became a mission for me. It was a challenge and I probably enjoyed the thrill of trying to get one more than I will actually enjoy playing it."
Often with product shortages, questions are raised about whether the paucity is genuine or engineered to create a buzz. The Wii console has already been out for more than 12 months.
"It's easy to be sceptical about these shortages, especially when a product has been around for some time, like the Wii," says Mr Dunmore. "But this console has always been in short supply, even in the summer which is traditionally a slow time for computer game sales."
Christmas online sales are predicted to reach £370m
Mr McKillop agrees and says the Wii shortage is genuine because Nintendo actually profits from the sale of them.
"Previously they haven't made money from the sale of consoles, they've made it from the games and other things. But with the Wii they do, so I truly believe the shortage is genuine."
But others are more circumspect.
"Personally I think it's just clever marketing," says Mrs Liddle, "but that didn't stop me wanting one."
Below are a selection of your comments.
What is required is a bit of foresight. Watching the markets carefully I realised the Wii would be the must-have console. Instead of searching websites (where you're competing against the rest of the UK), and phoning stores (who are likely to be too busy) I went in and actually asked. Unusual I know. Twice I went into the first Gamestation store in September, and amazingly I got a Wii on both occasions! Now I'm chilling out and laughing at those who are currently stressing out.
Stephen Ash, Cardiff
As mentioned in the article 'clever marketing'. I'm obviously naieve in thinking that the way to measure the most popular gift is to wait until after Christmas and see which item sold most.
The clever marketing TELLS us all what the most popular one is months before Christmas and waits for us all to trot out and buy what we're told (and in today's selfish, child-spoliling, celebrity obsessed, unimaginative world, that's exactly what we do).
The Wii is a great example. It's actually been around for years, but we've just not realised how much we REALLY want/need one until we've been officially told by the media. Well I suppose if parents sent their chubby kids out to find the Wiis it might keep them fit, although I remember (old codger time coming up.....) when we were happy with the Weeeeeee of sliding down a snowy slope on a sledge (and still had change out of a farthing).
Iain Scott, Newcastle
If I couldn't find the present that the kids wanted then they had to go without it and have something else.
Children need to learn that they can't have everything.
After promising my son a wii console last Christmas he was disappointed as I could not find one anywhere. Then one sunny May afternoon I wandered into Toys 'R' Us and there they were, stacked high !! After grabbing a ticket and dashing to the checkout before anyone else noticed they were in stock - my son finally got his Christmas present - 5 months late. Apparently it's all about luck!
Nicola Whiteley, New York, NY (formerly UK)
OK, parents of Britain...I have a barely used Wii, complete with 4 games! Shall we start the bidding at, oooh, ONE MILLION DOLLARS?!?
Brian, Not telling for my own safety