Tablets for tots will likely top wish lists this holiday season,though availability could be the problem it is every year for hot toys.
ToysR Us released its hot toy list Wednesday, and Kmart's is out Thursday.The lists offer parents a chance to get a jump on the search for thelatest trendy toy.
That may be necessary: A new survey showsinventory levels won't be much better than last year, which could meanbare store shelves and disappointed kids.
Asurvey of retail CFOs found 55% said inventory levels this holidayseason will be the same as last year, while only 25% said they increasedthe amount of merchandise purchased for the holidays, according toaccounting and consulting firm BDO USA's report out this week. It alsoshowed retailers are divided about whether too much or too littleinventory is the bigger risk to their holiday sales. With too muchinventory, stores are forced to make big post-holiday price cuts, whichcut into profits.
Toys R Us is offering one solution to worriedparents. Shoppers will be able to "reserve" certain toys with a 20% downpayment between now and Oct. 31. The service, which is similar tolayaway, includes any of the 50 toys on the retailer's "hot toy" list,as well as the 14 "contenders" for the list. It can be used even if theitem isn't in stock at the time. Purchasers get an e-mail notificationwhen their orders are available and have until Dec. 16 to pick them up.
While the economy may still appear bleak for some shoppers, some experts say the holiday season is looking bright.
"Thismay just be one of the best years in a long time for toys," says TinaBenitez-Eves, an editor who covers the toy industry for Gifts and Decorative Accessories magazineand website. "For consumers, finding that sweet price point is alwaysgoing to be difficult, but even with this up and down economy, it'spossible that consumers may spend more this year."
While manyconsumers say it's far too early to think about holiday shopping, somekids already have their lists all figured out. Abeni Ofunniyin, 31 ofRaleigh, N.C., says her daughter is begging for an iPad. She probablywon't get one, though. She's only 7. But her mother says she might find aKindle Fire under the Christmas tree.
The hottest toys this yearare about the past and the future, says Julia Fitzgerald, chiefmarketing officer for sporting goods and toys for Sears Holdings,parents company of Kmart and Sears.
An example of the two trends:Hasbro is bringing back Furby. The new Furby has expressive LCD eyes,interacts with iPads, and speaks "Furbish," learning English as yourchild talks to it, says Fitzgerald.
"Furby is coming back with a vengeance," she says.
"Trendscome, they go and then they come back again," says Benitez-Eves, themagazine's business editor. "But educational, interactive toys, oneswith an added tech advantage, are definitely more appealing."
WhileFurby hasn't been on store shelves for seven years, " in oursocial-media, tech-infused times, the interactive component makes ittimeless," she says.
Futuristic high-tech toys that made Kmart'shot toys list include tablets for kids like the LeapFrog LeapPad2, and aAir Hogs Hover Assault remote-controlled helicopter by Spin Master,which flies and shoots missiles. Back from the past is a Mickey Mousetoy from Fisher-Price, but revamped as "Master Moves Mickey," with"crazy hip-hop dance moves," says Fitzgerald.
The iPad and iPodeach made the National Retail Federation's top toy list last year, asdid LeapFrog products, which spokeswoman Kathy Grannis says "were hardto come by." It was the first year iPad made the list, while iPods havebeen a popular "toy" for longer.
Toys R Us Senior Vice PresidentLisa Harnisch says tablets like its own Tabeo, and the LeapPad2 areespecially hot this year. While parents' iPads may look like fun forkids, she says most parents would prefer less expensive and fragiletablets that are pre-loaded with educational games and apps.