NEW YORK » Toys R Us is betting that this year’s hot holiday toys will take a cue from Zhu Zhu Pets, the runaway toy hit last year, by following the three C’s: cute, cheap and collectible.
The toy seller’s annual top toy list includes plenty of collectible cuties, including Blip Toys’ Squinkies, tiny figures that fit inside a toy vending machine; Mattel Inc.’s $12.99 Sing-a-ma-jigs, colorful plush dolls that harmonize; and Pillow Pets, stuffed animals that convert into pillows.
Making the right picks early is crucial for toy sellers so they have the right mixture of toys at the right prices to lure gift givers to buy. The right bet can mean the difference between being in stock or out of the year’s must-have playthings in a season that can account for the bulk of a toy retailer’s annual profit.
"There are so many innovative toys available this year," said Lisa Harnisch, vice president, divisional merchandise manager of Toys R Us.
Her team has been working since just after last Christmas to determine which toys will be "hot" this year and make sure all 847 Toys R Us stores — plus the 600 temporary stores Toys R Us is opening for the holidays this year — remain in stock with them.
"Our goal is to be in stock. We pride ourselves in being in stock right up to Christmas Eve," Harnisch said.
Zhu Zhu Pets, squeaky toy hamsters that zoom around on wheels and cost about $10, found instant fame during last year’s holidays, when consumers counted every penny amid the uncertain economy.
Analysts expect toy sales to do slightly better than they did last year, when they edged down 1 percent to $21.47 billion, according to The NPD Group, which does market research. BMO Capital Markets expects sales to increase about 2 percent in 2010.
Price is less of a focus this year, but the appeal of collectibility remains.
Prices in Toys R Us’ top 15 list range from $12.99 for a Sing-a-ma-jig doll from Mattel to Imaginext Bigfoot the Monster from Mattel’s Fisher-Price for $109.99, which stomps around and makes noises.
Harnisch and her merchandisers around the world found some toys that made the list — including Squinkies, which have already become scarce on store shelves, analysts say — at the annual Hong Kong toy fair, which occurs each January.
They tested some toys, including Squinkies, in April in a few markets like Phoenix by advertising locally and stocking the product in five to 10 local stores for a week or two. Then they extrapolated the data to find out how the toy fared.
After seeing the results for Squinkies, "we knew it was going to be a solid toy for us," Harnisch said. Squinkies are 16 for $10 or $22.99 for the Cupcake Bake Shop set that comes with nine Squinkies.
Other expected hot sellers include a Lego Nerf N-Strike Stampede ECS toy blaster from Hasbro for $54.99 and a Lego Minotaurus board game for $26.99.
The complete list can be found at www.Toysrus.com/HotToys.