Wii Seller Bears Soul, Not Remorse

It’s every parent’s nightmare… and it’s been two years running. Trying to find the hot item for their kids, only to find every retailer has sold their stock, and having to turn eBay, where the difference between victory and defeat depends on how much you’re willing– or able– to spend… and whether or not someone else wants it just that much more.

Enter “Mark Anderson”– a pseudonym used by MSNBC to protect his safety. He has successfully bought Wiis, and successfully sold them. To some, he is a pinnacle of evil: a modern day Scrooge; to others, perhaps something worse, as he hoards the coveted console and marking up the price, earning himself a handy $4,500 in the end.

You might hate him. And he doesn’t care.

It all began innocently enough, as he tells MSNBC Games Editor Kristin Kalning by e-mail, “I was excited about making a little extra cash for the holidays,” he wrote. “I liked the idea of paying for Christmas gifts with a side job that wasn’t really that much work — or so I imagined.”

Anderson is married, has a Master’s Degree, a minivan, and two little girls to call his own. If anyone should understand, it would be him, right?

“I have to put my kids through college too, you know. Half the people whining about not getting these things never bothered to get up at 6 a.m. and get in a line, so I don’t want to hear it.”

A sympathetic figure if ever there was one.

To those who say they scoured their cities and didn’t find a single Wii, Mark points the finger squarely at Nintendo and their distribution. “I was able to walk into Fred Meyer (a Pacific Northwest superstore chain) and buy these things. For the big chunk of Wiis that I bought, I walked in and there was no line. I bought them and I sold them to people online because they wanted them.”

It began slowly, with a single unit from GameStop– plus a copy of Wii Play. If it didn’t sell, then no big deal– the family will enjoy it, at least. And sell it he did, posting it on eBay November 2nd and closing on the 5th. Profit after charges, fees, and supplies: $50.

“Not bad. Not $100 or anything, but “free” money nonetheless. It took up some of my time in the evening to post the listing, wrap the package, keep tabs on things, etc., but this was time spent after my kids were in bed and that I’d have spent watching “SportsCenter” or playing “World of Warcraft” or doing something else pointless.”

Most might have been discouraged by how Anderson’s second eBay listing panned out– it didn’t sell to anyone but a coworker who colluded with him to drive up the price. In the end, he wound up eating up the loss of $12 when eBay took their share.

“Bummer. I wondered if this enterprise would really pan out. As it happened, I didn’t really need auction help from friends after that.”

After that, however, business started to pick up, with Mark selling a bundle per day, taking in about $55 in profit each over the first two weeks of November, leading up to Thanksgiving. And once the holiday season officially kicked in?

“If you ever find yourself on Black Friday, at 6 a.m. at a Wal-Mart jostling with people to buy stuff, you know you’re in some form of hell.”

The weekend before Thanksgiving is when demand really began to soar, as profit margins climbed to $100, then $120, and on up, never really coming back down. “I imagined Black Friday and the Thanksgiving weekend would be crazy for sales — people waking up to Christmas shopping and starting to look for a Wii in earnest — and also crazy for getting supply. I started getting up very early for a number of days in a row.”

To those unable to find Wiis, he says it’s all about the timing. “These people were not waiting in line in mid-November. That’s their problem. They might have been asking casually at the store, but they weren’t systematically looking at when these stores got their shipments. People are told to start shopping for Christmas during Thanksgiving, and that’s what people did.”

Of course, it wasn’t too long– up to December 16th– before the bubble began to burst, as stores began to get less regular supplies and waits outside of Best Buy and Target– “one-shot deals” during Sunday blow-outs. “If Fred Meyer … and to a lesser extent GameStop … hadn’t been an option, this adventure never would have happened.”

And it’s hard to say when or if the adventure will happen again. Part of Mark’s interest in the venture came from the gamer in him, not simply because it was popular. No “Tickle Me Elmos” or “Mighty Morphin Power Ranger” rushes for him.

As for the one Wii that he did keep for himself?

“We never did open it or play with it … with two small kids we can’t seem to find the time. Or that’s what I tell myself. Actually, when I find myself with time in the evening I play “WoW” instead.”

And that’s why you couldn’t find a Wii at Christmastime.