| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Forget the flowers and candy -- Nintendo Co Ltd's 7974.OS highly anticipated "Wii Fit" video game will debut in the U.S. later this month, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc's (WMT.N) online division is trying to persuade shoppers to order the game as "a perfect gift" for Mother's Day.
This weekend, the Walmart.com homepage will be dominated by the Wii Fit -- a physical exercise program that uses a pressure-sensing board as a controller -- including a link to order the product now, ahead of its May 19 U.S. launch.
Through May 11, shoppers who "pre-order" the $89.74 game, or pay in advance to guarantee delivery when the game launches, will also get a $10 online gift card to use for a future order at Walmart.com.
"Initial response is extremely strong, and we're feeling really good about Nintendo Wii Fit dominating the home page," said Kelly Thompson, Walmart.com's chief merchant, of early shopper demand for the game. "... We really like the angle of marketing it to Mom."
The move comes as retailers look for creative ways to entice shoppers to keep spending amid the economic downturn.
Many U.S. consumers are shunning discretionary purchases as more of their budgets go toward rising food and fuel costs, and they have run out of access to easy credit to fund their shopping sprees.
Retailers now see holidays, like Mother's Day on May 11, as potential bright spots when cash-strapped shoppers may be persuaded to spend some of their limited cash.
According to a National Retail Federation Mother's Day survey, consumers, on average, intend to spend $138.63 on the holiday -- down from $139.14 last year.
STRONG SALES GROWTH
But the survey also found that consumers will shell out $1.2 billion this Mother's Day on consumer electronics like digital cameras, digital photo frames and video cameras.
In addition, while U.S. consumers have pulled back on many discretionary purchases, video game hardware and software continue to post strong sales growth.
U.S. sales of video game hardware and software rose 57 percent in March from a year earlier, according to market research firm NPD.
Sales of gaming hardware, software and accessories hit $1.7 billion in March, led by Nintendo's Wii console, which posted its biggest nonholiday month ever. Wii Fit, to be played using the Wii console, has already has sold more than a million units in Japan.
Walmart.com is seeing a trend toward consumers buying more tech-related gifts, like digital photo frames or cameras, for mothers, Thompson said.
With Wii Fit, Nintendo is trying to appeal to new video game users, like women and older consumers.
"You'll see our marketing programs really reach out to both genders and a range of ages," said Cammie Dunaway, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Nintendo's U.S. operations, in an interview with Reuters in February.
Dunaway said such gamers will still be drawn to the novelty and sophistication of Wii Fit and its bathroom scale-sized controller, which uses sensors to detect subtle shifts in a person's stance.
Thompson said Walmart.com has worked with Nintendo on the Wii Fit promotion and ensuring it has a strong inventory position to fill the pre-orders. There also will be a link on the site to buy the Wii console, as well as other games and accessories.
Thompson said consumers can give the $10 gift card to mothers on Mother's Day since the Wii Fit will not ship until after the May 11th holiday.
(Additional reporting by Scott Hillis in San Francisco; Editing by Brian Moss)