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Christmas Gift Guide
Culture

Retailers plugging PlayStation 2, but consumers beware

Ad circulars in weekend newspapers are touting the PlayStation 2, although retailers concede that your chances of getting one are slim when the game console debuts Thursday.

Ad circulars in weekend newspapers began touting the PlayStation 2 (PS2), although retailers concede that your chances of getting one are slim when the game console debuts Thursday.

The ads themselves sound promising. Target, for example, is offering a free vertical stand to those who buy the game console at Sony's suggested retail price of $299. Best Buy is also selling units for $299 and including a PS2 coupon book. Circuit City said it will offer the game console for $349, throwing in the Fantavision game, Gameshark sampler disk, and other goodies.

However, the fine print was less encouraging. Neither Target nor Best Buy are offering rain checks, meaning it's catch as catch can. Circuit City has a warning on its Web site that there are only a "small number" of machines in each store and that it expects they will sell out within minutes of stores opening at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Sony last month chopped in half the number of units it expected to ship at launch, to 500,000 units from earlier projections of 1 million. The crunch is expected to hit hardest the smaller retailers and online stores that had hoped to offer the game consoles this holiday season.

"I think every retailer is in the position that they did not receive as many consoles as they initially expected or as many consoles as they can sell," Circuit City spokesman Bill Cimino said. He would not specify how many units the company managed to secure but said each of the company's 619 outlets will have some Thursday on a first-come basis.

Target and Best Buy also refused to say how many PS2s they will have on their shelves Thursday. However, Kmart is advertising that it will have at least 25,000 of the game consoles for the debut.

Best Buy spokeswoman Laurie Bauer said the tightening of supply won't change the company's marketing strategy. In fact, Best Buy placed the PS2 prominently on the front of its ad circular Sunday.

"Every gaming launch, there never has been enough supply to meet demand," Bauer said. The retailers say they expect more of the machines to arrive throughout the holiday gift-buying season.

The first PS2s will go on sale at midnight Thursday at sites such as Sony's flagship Metreon shopping center in San Francisco. However, the other retailers said they are not planning to begin selling the game console until stores open at their usual times Thursday morning. A Kmart spokeswoman said it's unclear when the PS2 will go on sale at its 24-hour Super Kmart locations.

Sega vs. Sony
Despite the limited supply of PS2s, PC Data analyst Stephen Baker considers the high-profile advertising justified.

"Certainly, they would be nuts not to take advantage of whatever hype has been generated," Baker said. One factor that should minimize the madness is the fact that Sony's advertising has been relatively limited, Baker added.

Although the hype in the United States is just kicking in, the PlayStation 2 has been on sale in Japan since March. The units initially were scarce on store shelves, but supply is adequate now at many retailers, according to Shuji Matsushita, a technology columnist in Japan and a contributor to CNET Singapore.

In Japan, the PS2 has been popular not just because it's the latest game machine, but also because it is the cheapest DVD player on the market.

"All high-street shops stock PS2," Matsushita said. "You don't need to queue up any more."