Most don't toy with hot list

November 20, 2005|By Daniel Sernovitz

TRI-STATE - It's back, but this time, it can be turned off.

"Furby's back this year," said Kelly Cullen, spokeswoman for Toys "R" Us. "One of the selling points this year is it now has an 'off' switch." Cullen said the old version of the talking toy, which makes facial expressions to reflect a range of emotions, often ended up in the closets of homes because, short of taking its batteries out, Furby would not stop talking. With its return, the furry, animated creature is expected to be in scarce supply this holiday season. Once again, Furby has made its way onto the "Holiday 2005 Hot Dozen" list of must-have gifts published annually by Toy Wishes, The Ultimate Guide to Family Entertainment. Long before Santa Claus makes his own list, retail-related businesses including Toy Wishes, Toys "R" Us and the International Council of Shopping Centers circulate their own on what they think the leading sellers will be this season.


I-Dogs and Elmos

Making each of those lists this year is a range of electronic gadgets, including a grouping of animal-oriented musical devices such as Hasbro's I-Dog, a dog-shaped gadget that allows users to play their favorite I-Pod-downloaded tunes and watch as the toy reacts to them. As in prior years, the industry is offering up a handful of retro-toys, including a new batch of Elmos, Cabbage Patch Kids that come in twins this year and, at least at Toys "R" Us, something called a Doodle Bear.

"It's a toy that was around in the '80s and has come back this year," Cullen said of the bear that children can draw on with special markers.

Pam Grove, manager and co-owner of the Smithsburg General Store, said that even with advances in the toy industry, she believes simple, imagination-stimulating toys always will hold a place under the Christmas tree for parents of particularly younger children. The general store carries a line of Thomas the Tank Engine products. Grove said that in addition to appealing to children of both genders, the toys sell well primarily because they encourage children to think creatively while having fun.

"Really, the manual things, they enjoy it more than the battery-operated things," Grove said. "If you watch them, their imagination starts, they start making up stories ... They completely forget who you are, if you're there."

Other annual favorites include new versions of Barbie and Bratz dolls, as well as Star Wars action figures, fresh off this summer's release of "Star Wars Episode III ? Revenge of the Sith."

Mandy Wallace, a bookseller at Waldenbooks in Valley Mall, said she expects sales of the Harry Potter series to spike this season with the recent theater release of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia" also should receive a boost from Hollywood this season with an early-December movie release of the fantasy-based adventure book, Wallace said.

A mixed bag

Some industry experts say the season's offerings are a mixed bag, dotted with a range of strong sellers, but nothing that will stand out above the rest.

"There's not going to be one hot thing," said Colleen Cleary, spokeswoman for Kmart Corp. "There's going to be toys that do well, but there's not going to be a breakout."

With fuel and energy costs threatening to put a damper on consumer spending, some industry associations are predicting moderate gains for retailers over the holiday shopping season. The International Council of Shopping Centers is projecting sales will increase by between 3 percent and 3.5 percent, up from a 2.3 percent increase last year.

The National Retail Federation is projecting sales will increase by 5 percent, down from a 6.7 percent increase last year. Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, said that even with the threat of a cold winter and more costly heating prices, he expects the holiday shopping season will be a strong one based on a recent survey of retailers, and recent sales and economic data heading into the holidays. The association projects a 4.5 percent increase in sales this season, down from a more than 7 percent increase last year. Saquella noted that projections for last season, with less severe, but similar concerns about gas prices and heating costs, were conservatively set at about 5 percent.

What all this means for shoppers remains to be seen.

Hot lists aren't so hot

Some area residents queried at Martinsburg (W.Va.) Mall earlier this week said they pay little, if any, heed to industry lists, deferring instead to their own instincts and the preferences of those on their shopping lists.

"You just kind of listen to what the (people you're shopping for are) saying," Martinsburg resident John Mullens said. Mullens said he subconsciously notes the hints dropped over the year by those on his shopping list, making the actual shopping process much easier.

"Yeah, because normally they're always telling you what they want," Mullens said.

For those who haven't started their holiday shopping, the traditional Black Friday start to the holiday shopping season is less than a week away. Brandy Sharritt, a Harpers Ferry, W.Va., resident, said she will start shopping in about a week.

"I usually have a list of names of everybody I have to shop for," said Sharritt, who also discounted the utility of hot lists. "Not so much. I go by individual interests for the people on my list."

Martinsburg resident John VanLeeuwen said that by the time he gets around to shopping, most of the items on the hot lists likely will be sold out even if he had the inclination to pay attention to them.

So when does he plan to shop?

"Last minute, the week before Christmas," VanLeeuwen said.

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