A fuzzy critter that moves and squeaks will be one of this year's hottest holiday buys. "Fashion crazy" dolls will also fly off the shelves this season, experts say. And while these toys may seem very different, they have one thing in common: They're inexpensive.
Both toys retail for less than $12. The fuzzy critters, known as Zhu Zhu Pet Hamsters, cost between $8 and $10 and are already selling out, according to news reports. Several stores are even limiting how many hamsters shoppers can purchase in a day because of the high demand.
"As soon as we're getting them in, they're literally selling from boxes," says Laura Phillips, Wal-Mart's vice president of toys. She adds that the shopping frenzy for the cuddly playthings reminds her of how shoppers reacted to 1998's Furby and 1997's Tamagotchi.
Barbie Fashion Fever dolls are also hot items, selling for about $11.99.
The popularity of these toys is not surprising, according to experts. With parents expected to weigh necessity versus luxury as the holidays near, they'll look for the bargains. Professionals know this, and as retailers and trade publications begin identifying this year's must-have items, affordable options are topping the lists.
Toys "R" Us' 2009 Hot Holiday Toys list includes 21 must-have toys that cost less than $20, and only nine of the 57 toys on the list cost more than $100. Trade publication The Toy Insider's Top 20 list didn't include any toys that will cost parents more than $100.
Last year, several "Top" lists included numerous items that cost more than $100, including Biscuit, My Lovin' Pup, which retailed for $179.99.
But shoppers aren't expected to spend as much this year. "It's the year of competing for consumers' dollars," notes Laurie Schacht, the publication's president.
Board games, including Twilight Seen It? The DVD Game: Deluxe Edition and Monopoly Here & Now, are also expected to be popular because children can enjoy them for a long time and parents can buy them at low prices, notes Jim Silver, an analyst at Timetoplaymag.com, which publishes its own top list of toys every year.
Gift givers this year are going to be very sensitive about the money they allocate toward their holiday shopping
Elmo Tickle Hands, which costs just under $30, is also expected to attract buyers.
In the end, toy sales are expected to drop about 1 percent this holiday season compared to last year, when sales reached $9.82 billion, according to NDP Group, Inc., a research firm.
"Gift givers this year are going to be very sensitive about the money they allocate toward their holiday shopping," says Jonathan Samet, the Toy Insider's publisher, adding that despite the recovering economy, "parents are going to be more sensitive to what they spend."
Rebecca Sullivan, a public relations consultant in Massachusetts and mother of two, can vouch for that.
"The recession has made me think about what my kids and other kids I buy for need—need versus necessity," she says.
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Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.