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'Tis the Season...

25 Dec, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

Well, Merry Christmas!

To be honest, I hope nobody reads this column today. I hope you are all either home carving some delectable treat with your families or doing so much business that you don't have time to poke around your favorite Web sites looking for my blather.

It's a weird season. Stores I expected to be slow were busy and places I thought would be busy were deserted. Except for people following advertised bargain prices, I still can't figure it out – I was just glad I did my shopping early and only had to wander stores last week as an observer, not a participant. Best Buy looked a bit like a hockey game last week, with elbows flying and customers jockeying for line position.

One thing no retailer or observer could escape was consumers squeezing every dollar until Washington screamed. Amazon.com told Business 2.0 the season's hottest item was DVD players under $70. Shoppers at Best Buy leveled pallets of the $55 Mintek players but left $89 progressive scan models stacked to the ceiling. Even $69 players were moving much more slowly, which tells me $10 or $15 was a dealbreaking difference to consumers this year. I even met a guy at Wherehouse who said he had a $10,000 home theater system built around a DVD player and large screen TV, but was holding out on buying a combination DVD/VHS player because he couldn't find one under $250. Go figure.

Last week we also saw Blockbuster take a pounding in the stock market after reporting that sellthrough releases had cannibalized post-Thanksgiving rentals, a trend the chain's executives hopes will abate after today. Personally, I predict there will be a surge of rentals in January and February as new DVD player owners play with their toys. We're into the middle adopter part of the technology curve now and, unlike the early adopters, these are not the people who have to own every new thing – just the new thing to play it on.

So here's hoping this holiday brings your customers gifts that keep on giving and with it, a new wave of business for you.

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