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Ringing Up the Holidays

20 Dec, 2002 By: Stephanie Prange


Reporting for this story were: BRENDAN HOWARD, KURT INDVIK, ENRIQUE RIVERO, MERYL SCHOENBAUM, JOAN VILLA and HOLLY J. WAGNER

A unique characteristic of this video gift-giving season was the enormous sellthrough push at top retailers, with stores aggressively hawking DVD and shoppers actively on the lookout for discs.

To get a proper picture of the retail floor, Video Store Magazine staffers fanned out to the top sellthrough store locations in Southern California to capture the video holiday from the perspectives of customers and clerks.

Wading Through Wal-Mart
If you could get past the cosmetics, clothes, tires and car batteries, Wal-Mart had some great prices on videos. Numerous catalog hits, including Porky's, The Three Amigos and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, were priced at $8.78 under the chain's “Roll Back Prices” promotion. VHS hits, including The Rock, Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang, Enemy of the State and All Dogs Go to Heaven, were only $5.96 as part of the promotion.

One woman perusing the shelves decided to buy a copy of Buena Vista Home Entertainment's Beauty and the Beast special edition DVD, not for her children or grandchildren, but for her chiropractor. She said she and her chiropractor love the Disney animated classics.

A clerk stocking the shelves said the store had run out of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring extended edition DVD, and she had to reorder them. The store had run out of Ice Age DVDs as well, though there were numerous VHS copies.

A Blockbuster Afternoon
Blockbuster prominently featured DVDs to buy at the front door, with previously viewed DVDs and VHS cassettes tucked behind. About a quarter of the store space was allotted to sellthrough. Gift cards and giant signs exhorting customers to “Buy It!” were posted at the door.

Not one customer entering that store on a weekday afternoon came in to rent; they were all buying, many looking for previously viewed titles. One woman and her daughter wanted to buy National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. “We missed it being shown on TV,” she said, asking for a previously viewed copy. When the clerk informed her the title was too old to be in the previously viewed bin, she compared the new VHS and DVD prices. “It's only $2 cheaper,” she noted of the VHS, and she opted to buy the DVD even though the family has only one DVD player and numerous VCRs.

Costco's Package Deal
At Costco on a late Saturday morning, activity around the home video tables was fairly constant. Consistent with its typical merchandising, Costco had a number of exclusive packaged deals with suppliers, including Fox and MGM, which had, as part of its 007 DVD collection gift pack a Costco $7 cash card attached. Most of the top sellers were all well represented with plenty in stock, including a huge tower of Ice Age DVDs. Kids and family fare seemed to be the order of the day for customers.

Holding a VHS copy of Stuart Little 2 for her 8-year-old granddaughter and an Ice Age DVD for another 6-year-old grandson, one woman and her daughter said they were definitely more active video shoppers in 2002.

“The prices seem to be lower,” the grandmother said. “We're probably buying more than we did last year. And there seems to be more to choose from, now that more people have a DVD player.”

One couple picked up DVDs of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Ice Age as gifts for their two daughters, and a copy of Gladiator for him. “We're buying more video this year because we got a DVD player and we're building up our collection,” said the woman, who had heard about Band of Brothers being available on home video and was looking for it in VHS, but couldn't find it at that location. “Our problem is we don't have enough time to watch all that we're buying anyway.”

Gift Sets on the Rise at Suncoast
A lunchtime visit to a Suncoast store in an outdoor shopping mall showed the store was doing brisk business leading up to the holidays. “The rain yesterday killed us, but other than that it's been very busy,” said a store clerk. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring extended version was doing very well, he said, along with Lilo & Stitch and gift sets in general, most notably Band of Brothers. The store had plenty of gift sets available, and many of the customers were browsing these areas.

“It's more affordable this year,” said one woman heading to the cash register with the Fellowship extended version for her nephew. “Last year prices were in the higher $20 range, and this year it's low $20 range or lower.”

Nearby a young guy was buying a VHS gift pack of “I Love Lucy” episodes for his girlfriend. “I don't buy much video … I don't watch much TV,” he said, but added his girlfriend was crazy for Lucy.

All Quiet on the Kmart Front
The DVD aisle at Kmart was quiet, probably too quiet if that chain, recently delisted from the stock exchange, expects to benefit from its plan to stay open round the clock in the final shopping days of the year.

Three people were lined up at the electronics counter a few feet away to get their hands on video games locked in a case, two teenagers were perusing the CDs, but no one was in the DVD and video aisle.

Lilo & Stitch, Men in Black II and Stuart Little 2 were well-stocked in VHS (both English and Spanish) and DVD. Other than family and bargain videos, the video offerings were under lock-and-key.

At another Kmart that same morning, there were a few people picking through the CDs, and families and individuals waiting for service at the electronics counter.

Still, nobody was buying video.

Staying on Target
With about seven shopping days left before Christmas, a large Target store was still bustling during its extended evening hours. About a dozen shoppers perused the video department, which featured a wide selection of VHS starting at $5.99 and even more DVD titles as low as $9.44.

Despite the selection, consumers were poring over purchases carefully and looking for bargains.

“There are some good DVDs here for $10,” observed a student who said she couldn't afford to spend more that that. “I'm looking for stuff for my parents, Alfred Hitchcock and other older films that they would like, but there's none of that here.”

Her cousin was looking for DVDs for his daughter but bristled at what he considered unexpectedly high price tags on classic movies. He went home empty-handed.

“DVDs are cheap,” he insisted. “Now there's no reason to spend $20 on The Wizard of Oz.

One middle-aged customer was discussing gift selections with his wife, who carried a basket with a DVD of A Fish Called Wanda. He said they would purchase only a limited list as gifts.

“If we can get them priced at $9.44 we'll buy them for gifts, but even then we won't get that many,” he explained.

The store was completely out of Minority Report and Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course DVDs, which were on sale for $15.99 each. The Spider-Man disc, at $22.99, was also out of stock, along with the $14.99 sale-priced “Bob the Builder” DVD. Only one DVD of Ice Age, at $19.99, was on the shelf.

Bustling Best Buy
Shoppers crowded the DVD and game software aisles at Best Buy, although the only movie software buyers spotted in a line that wound halfway around the inside of the cavernous store were straight from the early adopter handbook: thirtysomething men.

One shopper, sporting a handful of titles like the Fellowship extended edition and the just-released Back to the Future boxed set and Minority Report, said he'd been choosing gifts for family and friends, not fulfilling wish lists.

“I just got things I think people would enjoy, based on what I know about them,” he said. “Some of them I got a DVD player for last year or two years ago.”

The man ahead of him in line was buying a midpriced DVD player for his brother, whose first player had “conked out.”

New releases and holiday pricing were the lures for another shopper, who scooped up most of the season's top sellers as gifts and a Minority Report for himself.

Hardware buyers were a mixed bag -- er, Santa sack. For every shopper hefting a DVD player, another was ringing up a VHS player at a rock-bottom price or a satellite set-top receiver.

Circuit City
A suburban Circuit City outlet was well stocked with both new releases and catalog titles on DVD, all priced at a discount.

While only a handful of shoppers were browsing the selections -- most were looking at the hardware, and some were scoping the video games -- a few did emerge with more than one DVD in their bags.

One woman, who purchased seven discs at Circuit City -- The Patriot and A Hard Day's Night were among them -- had bought about 10 videos a few days prior, and expected to pick up four more for her husband and three children.

A staunch opponent of video piracy -- her husband is a writer and producer in the entertainment industry -- the woman said she was beefing up the family's film collection, which already numbers in the hundreds.

Toys “R” Us Kids
As expected, kids' stuff was hot at Toys “R” Us, with a clerk saying “Dora the Explorer” videos, Ice Age and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron had been big sellers, though customers had been asking for the Spirit DVD and the store didn't have it. All “Baby Einstein” videos had been hot sellers at the toy store. Other kidvids selling well were Barbie as Rapunzel and The Country Bears.

While many of the shoppers were looking for game products, one man in his 30s picked up the Mr. Deeds DVD, and another woman looked for but couldn't find the Ice Age DVD.

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