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Tech Industry

Demand for elusive PlayStation 2 swamps e-tail sites

Anxious parents and hard-core video gamers clog the Web sites of several online stores in search of the much sought-after video-game console.

Anxious parents and hard-core video gamers are clogging the Web sites of several online stores in search of the popular PlayStation 2.

Amid the consumer frenzy to buy the much sought-after video-game console, several Internet retailers, including Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and BlueLight.com, have seen their sites stall or shut down.

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Are e-tailers ready for the holiday crush?
Daniel Todd, chief technologist, public services, Keynote Systems
Thousands of shoppers stay logged onto e-commerce sites for hours at a time in the hopes of getting their hands on a PlayStation 2. It is this year's equivalent to the wildly popular toys of holidays past, such as Cabbage Patch Kids or Tickle Me Elmo dolls. In addition, the consoles are in short supply from Sony, which has also ratcheted up demand.

"Some people told us they were online for 30 hours, clicking their 'refresh' keys," on their Internet browsers, said Greg Bottorff, one of the founders of PS2bargains.com, a site dedicated to searching out the lowest prices on PlayStation 2 consoles and games.

"As soon as people find one, they converge onto that site," he said.

On Friday, Amazon's site suffered a blackout for about 30 minutes. The outage came just prior to the company notifying customers that its daily supply of consoles were for sale. Amazon, which said its site troubles had nothing to do with heavy shopping traffic, sold out of an undisclosed number of game consoles in 30 seconds.

A rumor swirling around Thursday night that the console would be offered at BestBuy.com was enough to attract a mass of visitors to the Internet store, causing periodic outages that lasted until Sunday, a company representative said. When the online arm of the brick-and-mortar electronics chain Best Buy did put PlayStation 2 up for sale on Friday, it too, sold out within minutes.

Visitors to Kmart's BlueLight have seen long delays in trying to download the site. Since Tuesday, when BlueLight first began selling the PlayStation 2, the site has been sluggish at times, according to Keynote Systems, a San Mateo, Calif., company that tracks Internet performance.

Part of the problem behind the sites is the online merchants themselves. Some have chosen to make customers play a daily guessing game as to when PlayStation 2 will go on sale, Bottorff said.

For instance, Amazon and BlueLight offer an undisclosed number of consoles each day, but will not disclose what day or what time they will make them available. Since the consoles sell out in an instant, only those willing to continuously eyeball a site stand a chance of getting one.

As a result, many shoppers have parked themselves at some of the Web stores.

"If somebody wants to stay on the site all day, we can't stop them from doing that," BlueLight spokesman Dave Karraker said.

Meanwhile, BlueLight is trying to turn the added traffic into added dollars. Since only a fraction of the customers are able to walk away with a PlayStation 2, BlueLight is using the time that eager shoppers spend on the site to hawk other items.

When San Francisco-based BlueLight notifies customers that its daily supply of PlayStation 2 units are available, the company lights a blue icon on its Web site. However, the light also glows when the company offers a special sale on other items.

Hours prior to actually offering PlayStation 2, the light went on, and game hunters converged only to find information on deals about Razor scooters and other toys.

"Yes, we wanted to bring customers to the site," Karraker said. "But we also wanted to give families a chance at getting a console and not just the gaming fans who sit on a site, buy and then leave."

But Bottorff said some customers were disappointed.

"People couldn't believe it," he said. "They waited hours for PlayStation 2, and all they saw was a Barbie doll."

BlueLight also caught heat from customers for delaying its first sale of the console. The company said it would begin selling them Monday, but did not list them on the site until Tuesday evening.

"I am sick of waiting on BlueLight," read one message on PS2bargains.com's message board.