If you're determined to pick up an XBox One or PlayStation 4 in time for a holiday gift, don't expect the process to be all that easy or affordable—unless the holiday you're thinking of is Easter. Microsoft and Sony's latest video-game consoles just went on sale in November, and stock is likely to remain spotty to scarce through Christmas and beyond.
Still, you do have options. If you have free time during the day, you could try contacting retailers about when stock is expected to show up, and making sure you're at the store when the consoles get put on the shelf. But with most stores pushing pre-orders, much of the arriving stock may be sold before it even gets to the store.
Online ordering requires much less time and effort. But online availability of the two consoles is pretty tricky to come by as well. Nowinstock.net offers handy, frequently updated tracking pages for the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. But as of this writing, no major retailers aside from Ebay had available stock of the consoles. (Ebay should generally be considered a last resort, since eager buyers (and opportunistic sellers) are pushing up most "Buy It Now" console prices close to double their suggested retail prices. And prices are only likely to rise as December progresses and more buyers get desperate.)
But many major retailers and e-tailers are offering the consoles as part of bundle packs that include accessories and games. Walmart, for example, is offering a PS4 Console Holiday Solution Bundle that starts at $517 for the console and an accessory (a controller or camera), and one of three games. As of this writing, the retailer is guaranteeing delivery by Dec. 25, with further page details stating the bundle "should" ship on Dec. 16.
Other sellers, including GameStop, Amazon, and Target, are offering PS4 bundles as well. But (again, as of this writing) all bundles are currently out of stock. And we couldn't find a retailer other than Walmart that was offering a pre-order with guaranteed delivery by Christmas. Amazon and other outlets do allow you to sign up for e-mail alerts when stock comes in. But then, much like waiting at the store, you'll have to race to get an order in before stock again runs out.
If you're thinking of picking up an Xbox One, the good news is that—at the moment, at least—Microsoft's console is a bit easier to come by. Still, unless you happen to get lucky and find a site with the $500 base console in stock, expect to pay more for a bundle with accessories and games.
At the time of this writing, the Microsoft store has a Day One Complete Bundle in stock, for $700 with the console, a year of Xbox Live Gold, an extended three-year service plan, and your choice of two games (from a selection of eight). An $800 Ultimate Bundle is also in stock, which adds an extra game and wireless controller to what ships with the lesser bundle.
Find more deals and tips in our holiday and gift guide.
Again, it seems that Walmart is the only other seller offering a bundle that's guaranteed to be delivered by Dec. 25. The Standard Edition Holiday Solution Bundle is priced at $617 for the console, one game, and either a second game or a wireless controller.
Of course, as we've said, all of this is subject to change (and stock fluctuates very quickly), so there's a good chance that by the time you read this, some of these bundle options may no longer be available—though others may be. The nowinstock.net site is the easiest way to check what’s currently available.
What Microsoft and Sony say
We reached out to Sony and Microsoft about how each company expects to keep up with demand through the holiday season. Sony responded by sending us a press release on Dec. 3 that touted sales of more than 2.1 million PlayStation 4 consoles worldwide as of Dec. 1. The console is currently available in 32 countries, according to Sony.
"Demand remains incredibly strong and continues to overwhelm the supply worldwide," said Andrew House, president and group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, in a written statement. "But we are diligently working to meet those growing demands and to deliver additional PS4 units to our retail partners throughout the holiday season."
Microsoft also announced that the company sold more than one million Xbox One consoles in less than 24 hours the day after it launched in 13 countries on Nov. 22.
"Eleven days in we are seeing record breaking sales and are selling every Xbox One we can make," Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of strategy and marketing, Xbox, told us via e-mail. "Demand is far exceeding supply in the 13 countries we've launched and we are sold out at retailers around the world."
It’s certainly reasonable to interpret press releases about huge sales numbers as carefully worded PR hype. But demand for both consoles shows no sign of slowing down. The PlayStation 4 doesn't even go on sale in Sony's native Japan until Feb. 22, and the Xbox One won't hit store shelves anywhere in Asia until 2014.
Expanding markets will probably only put more stress on availability in the U.S. So if you're aiming to get one of the two new gaming machines in your living room before Dec. 25—or even by sometime in January—it's best to start your search as soon as possible.
Because if you think the consoles' Ebay prices are high now (and they are), you certainly don't want to be scouring the site a week before Christmas, competing with other desperate buyers over the few remaining unsold consoles.
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