Buyer Beware: Holiday 'Must Haves' Could Fly Off Store Shelves

Video games have been a hot seller that past few years and this year Activision Blizzard's "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" is already breaking sales records.

It took in a record $550 million worldwide during its first five days on sale. That tops the previous record of just over $500 million set by "Grand Theft Auto IV" last year. The latest in the "Call of Duty" video game franchise went on sale Nov. 10.

Retailers and industry experts say the simplest way to avoid being shut out of the hottest items is to shop early, of course. Going online is one way to do that, but the National Retail Federation reminds shoppers that many retailers will gladly hold in-stock items for consumers via a phone order.

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Modifying expectations this season also will be helpful.

"Let's face it; some of these items well certainly be gone well before Thanksgiving," says Jeff Sweenic, a manager at the video game retailer Game Shop in Denver, Colo. He advises shoppers to pivot now and begin thinking of suitable back-up gifts.

"If we sell out of something like "Call of Duty" there are still plenty of other games people will gladly take as a gift."

Retailers Struggle

The struggling economy has meant that this year Black Friday is shifting from a one-day sale event to a month-long stretch of promotions, as retailers work hard or early holiday sales.

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Retailers from Wal-Mart to Amazon already have launched ad campaigns boasting of dramatic discounts.

Kohl's annual pre-Christmas flyer went out last week and Wal-Mart is releasing its Christmas catalog early. Meantime, Amazon is set to unleash an ad blitz for holiday sales this week.

Koehn, at Harvard Business School, says retailers want to avoid a repeat of last Christmas when many sliced prices aggressively just before the holidays, hurting sales margins.

"This environment will certainly force retailers to cut prices early," she says. "What remains to be seen is if this strategy will actually work."

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