All kids at heart

By MARCELLA S. KREITER  |  Dec. 24, 2001 at 12:20 PM
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CHICAGO, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- When it comes to Christmas, apparently adults are just kids at heart.

The new electronic game systems -- Microsoft's Xbox and Nintendo's GameCube -- have been leading the way for holiday sales but it appears the systems are not kids' stuff.

Bob Wiseman, 53, a Dublin, Ohio, lawyer who devotes six hours a week to his passion, says people just don't understand why he's so taken with home video games.

"The attitude is, 'What kind of nonsense is this? You're an adult,'" Wiseman told Monday's Columbus (Ohio) Post-Dispatch. Wiseman, who began his gaming career on an Atari 2600, owns an Xbox, GameCube and Play Station 2.

The Interactive Digital Software Association reports 57 percent of all video game players are adults -- a reversal of the demographic in 1997 when more than half were under 18.

"The adults have more money and a lot of these game systems are on the pricey side," explained video game merchant Keith Clevinger.

Clevinger, 38, who manages Video Games Express in Columbus, said he himself has been playing games since his late teens, honing his skills on an Atari 2600 system.

Home video game systems made their debut in 1972 with the Magnavox Odyssey. The Atari 2600, which was the first system to gain commercial success, made its debut in 1977.

But video games aren't the only things people want this year. A survey by RoperASW of 1,000 adults over the age of 18 indicates the top item on people's Christmas lists is clothing (13.8 percent), with electronics coming in second (10.2 percent), just ahead of those who want nothing (10 percent). A word of wisdom for people who like to buy their spouses something for the house: Appliances were at the bottom of the list with just 3.1 percent of those polled asking for them.

Those who have been procrastinating since Thanksgiving are being greeted with deep discounts, longer shopping hours and premiums like free chocolate bars.

The weak economy coupled with unseasonably warm weather put a major glitch in retailers' bottom lines, with sales up only slightly on the last shopping weekend before Christmas. Efforts by automakers to boost their bottom lines with zero-percent financing apparently had an adverse effect on other retailers, with people who put their money into new vehicles cutting back on other purchases.

Kmart marked down jewelry 70 percent during the weekend and scheduled marathon shopping hours to lure customers through its doors while Sears, Roebuck & Co. gave away $10 coupons and Ghirardelli's chocolate bars.

Retailers don't want the post-holiday season to mirror the past few weeks and many already have mounted post-holiday sales efforts aggressively promoting after-holiday sales. Some, like Ann Taylor, handed out post-Christmas coupons with holiday purchases.

"Consumers have been delaying more and more until after Christmas," Diane Swonk, chief economist for Bank One Corp., told the Chicago Sun-Times. "This whole promotion-after-Christmas is accepting the reality that consumers have gotten very savvy and they wait for the best discounts."

The exception is electronics.

Abt Electronics of Morton Grove, Ill., reports sales up nearly 20 percent from last year, with strong sales in such items as $3,000 big-screen televisions and machines that play both DVD's and VHS tapes.

"Business is absolutely outstanding. I think people are spending money on their homes instead of taking a trip to Paris," owner Robert Abt told Crain's Chicago Business. "Plus the factories are smart. They keep obsoleting everything."

Internet retailers also offered big bargains, with sales surging by more than a third as a result, to nearly $6 billion.

For those who still couldn't get to the store on Monday, many major merchants like Eddie Bauer, Lands' End and Amazon offered electronic gift certificates on their Web sites, including same-day electronic delivery.

And in Illinois there's a new twist on gift certificates. State law was changed this year to allow retailers to participate in a new program that provides gift certificates that never expire. Previously, stores had to keep track of all gift certificates and if after five years they were unused, merchants had to pay the state treasurer the face value under Illinois' Unclaimed Property Act.

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