Holiday Central

Big Box Boom: Gadgets Sell – And Prices Boil

Greg Levine

There’s plenty of time to shop for Christmas… right?

Maybe not. CNBC’sDarren Rovell had a caveat for procrastinators: “If you did not get your flat-screen TV over the [Thanksgiving] weekend,” he warned, “you’re in trouble.”

Whither the gargantuan televisions? Has a prohibitive trade tariff been enacted ahead of Nancy Pelosi’s assumption of power? Has the FCC declared them obscene?

Nope: The entertainment units are still legal. But at the so-called Big Box stores, they’re getting scarce, and prices are leaping. Expect to see it get worse in the run-up to the Yuletide.

Darren reported today from the Best Buy at Paramus, N.J., where N.Y.-N.J. metro area denizens rush to buy holiday goodies. He told the gang at Squawk Box that inventories of giant TV sets were marauded by the Black Friday -- and Saturday and Sunday -- crowds. He pointed specifically to the 42-inch Panasonic flat-screen, which had been going for $999 before the onslaught. Today? One of those babies will run you $1,518, he said.

Other big victors are winning by association: mighty mite Bose makes those tiny-but-powerful radio-speaker gadgets – and its SoundDock is geared to boom tunes from Apple Computer’s iPod all over the last digital frontier: your living room.

What other electronics pumped up sales at the brick-and-mortars?

The crowds snapped up videogame consoles: Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii disappeared well before shoppers’ demand did – and despite tepid reviews, at $299, Microsoft’s “Xbox 360 is a weird winner,” Rovell muses.

(And a little Christmas irony: If consumers only had the patience to dispense with hands-on gratification, they would see that on shopping sites like eBay and – where a batch of $100 Xbox 360s supposedly sold out in 29 seconds on Thanksgiving morning -- prices on these microchip mega-toys are actually dropping.)

Of course, not all stores were boosting their prices: Wal-Mart, which made a stylish niche for itself of late by featuring snazzy designer duds at humble prices, has gone back to its successful roots – and trumpeted sudden price cuts for consumer electronics. If the strategy helps the world’s biggest retailer to reverse its decline, that may spell Noel woe for the likes of Best Buy and Circuit City .