The best strategy to get an Xbox 360

Posted by Humphrey Cheung

Westlake Village (CA) - If you are planning on buying Microsoft's Xbox 360 console today or early tomorrow morning, you may want to get in line soon. Video game fanatics are prepping their tents in front of some stores across the country. We visited and called several stores, big and small, to find out what your chances are to find and Xbox 360 tonight, tomorrow - and before Christmas.

Following common sense, you would expect the large stores such as Best Buy, Circuit City or Walmart to have hundreds of units, but the availability is so limited that most stores will only have a few dozen and in some cases even as little as 10 units available. Some have even set aside units for "special customers" or for people who have been put on a reservation list.

At Best Buy, there have been no official pre-orders, but frequent customers have been given special treatment by Best Buy managers. According to a Best Buy source, managers offered to hold aside units for customers who spent more than $30,000 in a particular store during the past year. In addition, some members of Best Buy's RewardZone were given the opportunity to have the Xbox 360 shipped directly to their homes.

The source also told us the number of Xbox units that a store receives is determined by the number of customers the store services - low traffic stores get fewer units. Most stores will receive between 20 to 50 units and management has given instructions that units cannot be put aside for employees or relatives. However we also found a suburban Chicago store that will have less than 10 units available - "It's not worth getting in line here," a sales associate said.

It will be business as usual for many other stores, including the Walmart in Simi Valley California. A representative in the electronics department infomedd us that they will open at 7AM tomorrow and around 20 Xbox 360s will be available on a first come first serve basis. There will be less than 20 units at another Walmart near Chicago. That store will open at 8AM and the consoles will also be sold on a first-come first-served basis. A representative told TG Daily that people were already lining up as of 3:30 PM, CST Monday. Interestingly the representative mentioned that they do not expect another shipment until right before or just after Christmas.

Circuit City, another large electronics store, is also very limited on the number of available Xbox 360 units. The Circuit City in Thousand Oaks, Calif., will open at the normal time tomorrow and has units for the first 20 people. Target outlets across the country said they were not allowed to say how many Xbox 360 units were allocated to each individual store, but conceded that supplies would be "very limited." Customers would have to wait in line and would receive purchase "tickets".

The chance to get a console at a gaming store is even worse. About a dozen gaming stores we contacted mentioned that all units they receive already are reserved and pre-sold. We went to the Game Stop store in the Westfield Shopping Center in Santa Anita, Calif., and the sales clerk told us that 26 units are at the store, but they were all reserved. "We hold it for 48 hours and if they don't show up, we start going down the rest of the list," he said. We called another Game Stop in Westlake Village California and the representative said, "We will not have any units for walk-ins." He couldn't be specific on how many units the store received, but said, "We had a bunch of pre-order requests, but what we got in, was a different story."

There seems to be conflicting information on the Internet about how many units are available and your best strategy to buy a unit is to call several nearby stores to find out how many units they have available and what time the store opens.

Here is our recommendation, if you want to buy an Xbox 360 tonight or tomorrow: Stay away from the small electronics stores because their units are probably already reserved, but your chances are good if you are willing to wait in line at a large store such as Best Buy or Walmart. In addition, you probably don't even have to be at the store early in the morning and our Best Buy source told us that the launch should be comparable to a previous gaming blockbuster, the Sony PSP. "For our Sony PSP launch, we still had some units at the end of the first day," he said.

Microsoft did not release specific information how many Xbox 360 units will be available at launch. However, a spokesperson told us that "our manufacturing facilities are running at full capacity and churning out as many consoles as humanly possible. Thousands of workers are literally at it around the clock, and our plan is to replenish retail supplies as often as possible. In the aggregate, we are not changing our 90 day forecast of 2.75 to 3.0 million units."

While our research showed that there may be more $299 Core Xbox 360 than harddrive-equipped $399 versions available, Microsoft told us thge contrary will be the case: "We are not releasing exact numbers on the availability of the two different versions, but we can say that gamers have told us they are more likely to buy the full $399 Xbox 360 system," the spokesperson said.