Mark Anderson was a Wii reseller. And he doesn’t care if you hate him.
In a little over six weeks, Mark made about $4,500 hoarding the red-hot game consoles and jacking up the $250 retail price. He used eBay, UPS and his 1997 Buick LeSabre to gouge people — people like you.
“I was excited about making a little extra cash for the holidays,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I liked the idea of paying for Christmas gifts with a side job that wasn’t really that much work — or so I imagined.”
Because I’m concerned about Mark’s safety, I’m not using his real name. I don’t want him to be harassed at the Safeway, or to find his house firebombed.
Of course, if would help if he were just a bit repentant. I mean, he’s 40 years old. He has a master’s degree. He’s married, owns a minivan and has two little girls. He should know that there’s a special place in hell for people who profit from desperate parents at Christmastime.
The following transcript is excerpted from phone and e-mail correspondence with him:
Q. First of all, how could you do it? You’re a father. Haven’t you ever been the guy who was too late for the Hannah Montana electric guitar?
A. 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.
Q. I got a ton of e-mail from people saying they did all kinds of things and still didn’t get a Wii.
A. It’s all about Nintendo’s 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.
Q. Tell me about your first sell. How did you do it?
A. I started slowly, buying a unit at GameStop … I figured if it didn't sell on eBay I'd just keep it for the family. No loss, nothing to worry about. I went with the unit, plus “Wii Play” (the game) and the Nunchuck bundle from the beginning — hey, why not try to get that extra $10-20 margin while I was at it?
I listed my first bundle on (eBay) on Nov. 2 and it sold on Nov. 5. Profit after eBay fees, PayPal fees, UPS charges and packing supplies costs was about $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.
Q. What about your second listing?
A. My second listing didn't sell — or rather, it "sold" to a co-worker who was helping me jack the price of my auction to a certain minimum level. That scared me a bit. I had to eat the $12 or so eBay fee for the listing. Bummer. I wondered if this enterprise would really pan out. As it happened, I didn't really need auction help from friends after that.
Q. What happened next? How many Wiis were you selling?
A. For the first two weeks of November, before Thanksgiving, I was selling roughly a bundle (one unit) a day, averaging about $55 profit per bundle.
Q. How did you find these things? I’ve gotten dozens of e-mails from people — good people, decent, hard-working people — who waited in pre-dawn lines, in sleet and snow. Were you bribing people at the Fred Meyer?
A. I’m telling you, the whole point was 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.
Q. What happened when the holiday shopping season started?
A. 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 things started to heat up. My margins hit $100, and then $120, and they never really came down after that. 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.
Q. Sounds pretty time-consuming.
A. Yeah, it got to be. But I just lost a lot of sleep.
Q. OK, but what about work? Didn’t it cut into work?
A. Other than checking frantically on eBay all day, every five minutes, not that much.
Q. So, what then?
A. After Thanksgiving, things started to fall apart … my golden goose was cooked, I couldn't get my hands on any more eggs.
Granted, I did end up buying five units from Nov. 27 through Dec. 16, but the go-go days of November were over. I had to resort to Sunday morning lineups at other retailers — Best Buy and Target — but those were pretty much one-shot deals. Those stores never had a regular supply; they just did a couple of Sunday blowouts before the holidays … but that was it. If Fred Meyer … and to a lesser extent GameStop … hadn't been an option, this adventure never would have happened.
Q. Would you do it again?
A. I have an interest in being involved in the gaming geekdom, making money out of gaming geekness. But making money out of a random widget because it’s popular, like the next “Tickle Me Elmo”? No, I’m not going to get up at 6 in the morning just to sell some random something.
Q. Did you at least keep one of the Wiis for yourself?
A. I did keep one so that the family could open it on Christmas morning, but 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.