Opinion: Slow sales? Here’s a solution

I recently managed to scoop up one of those Nintendo Wii gaming systems to give as a Christmas present, and to be perfectly honest I’m still in shock.

It’s not that I’m all that surprised I managed to get one. Far from it, actually, despite the noticeable lack of stock at every sales outlet in Ottawa. After walking half an hour to the mall for 8 a.m., then walking another 45 minutes to work, I’m pretty sure I’ve earned a right to the tiny gizmo.

No, I’m more surprised about the absolute hysteria still surrounding this product in what’s become a sea of depressingly bad retail news.

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Retail sales in Canada were late last week said to have dropped 0.9 per cent in October, with significant declines seen in nearly every sector (although price reductions were seen as the biggest contributor). Indeed, most stores predict this holiday season to be one of the worst on record – especially with the double-whammy of the transit strike here in Ottawa.

With visions of tumbleweed-strewn malls and puppy dog-eyed merchants, I strolled to Future Shop to pick up my prize a few weeks ago.

No problem, I thought. I’d be able to pick up the system – which uses motion-sensing controllers and was launched in late 2006 – at the big-box repository anytime, I was sure, in this kind of retail environment.

I’d heard of mass sellouts of the Wii last Christmas, of course. But this year would be no sweat, I reasoned.

“You got one of those Wii thingamajigs?” I asked the clerk upon my arrival. She looked at me like I’d just announced I was from Jupiter.

“Nope,” she drawled, without elaborating.

I stared at her for a few seconds, not comprehending. Having never shopped for an ‘in’ gift before I was alarmingly out of my depth. I felt like one of those crazy Americans you see getting trampled each year, trying to get their hands on some overhyped product.

“Well, are you getting some in anytime before Christmas?” I asked.

She cackled. “Yeah, but good luck getting one.

“They’re only around for about 20 minutes after we get a shipment.”

It was a devastating revelation. My brilliant plan – a plan I’d put into motion just that day – was already in tatters, our family’s Christmas quite possibly ruined. I tried to stay positive until the same thing happened at Best Buy, the Source, Wal-Mart and even the Loblaws electronics department.

“Try back early on Friday,” each clerk helpfully suggested. Hence my early-morning slog through the snow to the mall.

But if this wasn’t bad enough, following each shutout I trudged home to see or read yet another depressingly gloomy retail outlook.

Sears, for instance, announced last week it would cut prices by as much as 75 per cent in the U.S. during the run-up to Christmas – a sale normally reserved for Boxing Day.

Companies such as Canadian Tire Corp., Harry Rosen and jeweller Birks & amp; Mayors Inc. have also announced deep discounts in light of less-than-exciting till action.

Make no mistake, it’s a tough retail environment right now. My heart goes out to store owners who may not see the light of day following what’s sure to be a difficult Christmas season, especially for luxury items.

But my advice? Start selling Wiis. You’ll make a killing.

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