Janesville65.2°

Shoppers finding their way to high-tech gifts

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JAMES P. LEUTE
December 8, 2007
— If you’re feeling a little lost in your search for one of this year’s hottest gadget gifts, just ask some retail store managers in Janesville what’s been flying off their shelves.

They’ll tell you it’s been portable Global Positioning System units, and not necessarily the ones designed to get you out of the woods or to your favorite fishing hole.


They’re instead referring to the GPS units that you use in your car to map the best route to your favorite retailer, long-lost cousin Judy’s cabin in Vermont or that business meeting in downtown Phoenix.


The Consumer Electronics Association estimated that U.S. households will spend an average of $358 on gadget gifts this year.


With the holiday buying season in full swing and Christmas a little more than two weeks away, we asked store managers at Gander Mountain, Radio Shack, Team Electronics and Best Buy in Janesville about this year’s best sellers.


GPS units


GPS is a satellite-based navigation system made up of a network of 24 satellites placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense. GPS originally was intended for military applications, but in the 1980s, the government made the system available for civilian use. It works in any weather conditions, anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day.


The Associated Press reported that GPS sales are running four times ahead of last year’s pace. Today’s units are more sophisticated and less geeky than the early models, and they now feature digital maps to pinpoint a location and ways to check e-mail, send text messages and play music files.


The market leaders are Garmin, TomTom and Magellan, said Tim Tollefson of Gander Mountain. Models start at about $150 and escalate, depending on their bells and whistles.


On Thanksgiving weekend, Gander Mountain sold out of its supply of GPS units, which Tollefson had expected to last several weeks. He quickly re-ordered.


“GPS units are hot,” said Shane Davis of Best Buy. “They’ve finally come down in price to a point where people can afford them.”


Computers


David Masotti, who owns Team with his wife, Rebecca, said Apple computers, particularly the laptops, have been selling well.


“It seems like everyone wants a computer,” said Masotti, who is one of the few Apple computer retailers in the area. Sales of Apple computers account for about 80 percent of his business.


“I’m not sure we’re the only one in Janesville, but when it comes to service and support for Apple, we like to think we’re the only game in town.”


Computer sales at Best Buy are solid, Davis said. But July and August and the back-to-school rush typically account for the biggest chunk of Best Buy’s computer sales.


Video gaming


Davis said Nintendo Wii gaming systems and “Guitar Hero III,” the latest version of the wildly popular music game, are difficult to keep in stock.


Other hot sellers


In addition to brisk sales of GPS units and MP3 music players, Radio Shack was selling a lot of digital photo frames, a manager there said.


And the digital cameras that make the photos that go in those frames continue to be hot at Best Buy.


“The technology just keeps improving, and the prices have fallen,” Davis said.


Davis also reported strong sales of high-definition televisions, although he couldn’t particularly attribute the interest to serious sports fans looking to make a switch from cable providers to satellite systems that carry more sport programming in HD.


And while it might have more to do with the weather than the holiday, Masotti said sales of remote car starters are firing up at Team.


If none of those items trips your trigger, Tollefson offered one more high-tech gift idea that’s catching on in a big way at Gander Mountain: Fish cameras.


If a picture is worth a thousand words, then just how valuable to an angler is a high-resolution image of a lunker lurking below his boat or shanty?


About $130, Tollefson said of the units Gander Mountain is selling.


“I swear, some of these guys spend more time looking at the fish than they do catching them,” he said.



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