Imagine the grocer going into Christmas without ham, pudding, cards or decorations. Disaster. Toy and consumer electronics retailers are facing something similar.   Each year they rely on the release of the next big thing to drive sales. Every year, without fail, there has been one. Hopalong Cassidy cowboy outfit in 1953, hula hoops in 1958, Cabbage Patch doll in 1986, Tamagotchi 1997. All the way back to the William the Conqueror Archery set in 1066. The formula is straightforward. Hype the product, tease the market for months, launch in late October or November and keep stock availability just tight enough to discourage discounting and create an element of panic buying. Bonanza for retailers.  This year the noise has been about Sony PlayStation 3. At around $1000 a pop, plus a few more dollars for add-on games and accessories, it would be the engine driving sales. In what is a disaster for the likes of Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, Toys “R” Us and the department stores, Sony announced yesterday that the much hyped system would not be launched in Australia until March next year. Japan will get some and the US will receive 400,000 machines instead of the four million pre-ordered.  Australia and Europe zip. Australian dollar sales would have been in the tens of millions. So what’s it to be for the kiddies? A cricket bat?

Peter Fray

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