Shop staff 'bought up TouchPads', say customers

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER, CHRIS GARDNER AND ASHER MOSES
Last updated 15:25 23/08/2011
Noel Leemings TouchPad sale
Photo: Patrick Pilcher

BARGAIN HUNTERS: Early bird customers queue outside a Wellington Noel Leeming store.

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Noel Leeming is encouraging staff who bought Hewlett-Packard TouchPad computers on impulse at a knock-down price this morning to consider returning them, if they don't want them, so they can be sold to customers.

General manager of merchandise Jason Bell said the company had had just over 500 of the tablet computers nationwide when it was instructed by HP to slash their price to $137, down from an original $799, and he said most of them had been sold to the public, not staff.

Noel Leeming first confirmed rumours of a sell-off when contacted by The Dominion Post yesterday but would not disclose at the time how many of the devices it had in stock.

Angry shoppers hoping to pick up TouchPads at a bargain price this morning accused the chain of letting its staff buy them before they could get a look in.

Bell said Noel Leeming had asked staff to be aware of sensitivities surrounding the fire sale and that customers came first.

He said it was hard to tell if any staff had bought the tablets outside the stores' normal opening hours. "I don't think that is the case from what I have seen so far."

Warehouse Stationery general manager of marketing Julie Garlick said it had fewer than 200 of the two models of TouchPads, which it discounted down to $139 and $209 today.

Garlick said it could not legally prevent staff from buying them but most had been sold to the public and the tablets did not sell out in all its stores until early this afternoon. Staff were only allowed to buy the tablets during shop hours, she said.

Hopeful Wellingtonians queued for half-an-hour for the discontinued tablet computers at Noel Leeming on Tory St this morning only to be told they had no stock.

There were similar reports from stores in Porirua and Palmerston North.

About 40 people queued outside Noel Leeming's Lower Hutt store to find just one unit was available when the doors opened.

A few would-be customers vented their frustration calling out ''what a crock of shit'' and labelling the sale a scam, but most were philosophical.

Bell said the company had not advertised the fire sale.

Facing fierce competition from Apple and Android tablets, HP announced last week that it would discontinue the TouchPad but would still support the webOS software it runs on.

Across the Tasman, the tablet has sold out and those who bought one cheap yesterday have hit eBay looking to more than double their money.

The discontinued TouchPad sparked a stampede to Harvey Norman stores around Australia yesterday afternoon after HP slashed the base price from A$499 to A$99.

Thanks to the power of social media, 6000 units sold in less than an hour. The TouchPad had been on sale in Australia for just four days before the discounting and Harvey Norman's general manager for computers, Ben McIntosh, said about 1000 were sold in that period.

McIntosh said HP told him it had an additional "few hundred" units to sell through its online store but "they told us yesterday at 5pm they'd sold out".

McIntosh said he had hoped to get his hands on some more units hauled in by air freight but that was now impossible after BestBuy in the US moved over 200,000 of the tablets over the weekend.

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"There are none [left] unfortunately. I thought there might have been some more available but BestBuy in the States sold a massive amount over the past week so literally HP's got none," he said.

Overnight, dozens of HP TouchPads appeared on eBay, listed by users in Australia. Most are asking for more than A$300 for the 32GB models.

The scarcity created by the fact that HP is producing no more TouchPads has made it somewhat of a collector's item, and the bargain price created significant buzz, but the product will become less useful as time goes by as developers are unlikely to invest much money in creating apps for the device.

The TouchPads also sold out in US and Canadian stores but HP has said it would make more available to US users through its online store until they're completely gone.

The webOS platform the TouchPad is based on may be flailing but, already, groups have formed in an effort to port Google's Android platform to the TouchPad. One site, Hacknmod.com, is offering a US$1500 cash bounty for the first person to do it successfully.

- Stuff with Sydney Morning Herald

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