Black Friday toy sales not devoid of recall fears

NEW YORK Fri Nov 23, 2007 4:01pm EST

Early morning shopper Leslie Betts negotiates her full cart through a busy toy aisle of a Wal-Mart store in Woodstock, Georgia, November 23, 2007. Toy shoppers largely ignored more than 70 recalls of products made by Mattel and other manufacturers this year and swept into stores looking for bargains on Friday. REUTERS/Erik S. Lesser/Wal-Mart/Handout

Early morning shopper Leslie Betts negotiates her full cart through a busy toy aisle of a Wal-Mart store in Woodstock, Georgia, November 23, 2007. Toy shoppers largely ignored more than 70 recalls of products made by Mattel and other manufacturers this year and swept into stores looking for bargains on Friday.

Credit: Reuters/Erik S. Lesser/Wal-Mart/Handout

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Toy shoppers largely ignored more than 70 recalls of products made by Mattel, RC2 and other manufacturers this year and swept into stores looking for bargains on Friday.

Angel Padilla, from Orlando, Florida, a self-confessed 4 a.m. Black Friday shopper was at the Toys "R" Us store in Manhattan's Times Square with his 5-year-old son, Zahid. He said the "Made in China" label worried him, but not enough to refuse buying the products.

"There are very few toys that are not made there," he said, shrugging off concerns while shopping for toy robots.

Like Padilla, most U.S. consumers will shop for toys this holiday season despite the recalls that have challenged sales, according to analysts that follow the industry.

Nearly 50 percent of all toy sales are rung up during the fourth quarter, which includes the holidays, according to market research firm NPD Group.

Black Friday is considered a harbinger for the rest of the holiday shopping season in the United States.

Consumers line up hours in advance at malls and electronics stores, Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Sears, to snag deals.

At the Toys "R" Us, the line that snaked around the block was probably twice as long as last year's on Black Friday, Chief Executive Jerry Storch said.

"The only longer line I have ever seen was when we launched the Nintendo Wii here," he said of the November 19, 2006 introduction of the video game.

Sales so far looked good, and online sales on Thanksgiving Thursday exceeded expectations, he said.

'MADE IN CHINA' WORRIES

Recalls of millions of toys, mostly Chinese-made, from Curious George Plush dolls to Thomas & Friends wooden rail cars due to concerns over lead paint, alarmed consumers and worried retailers.

It may have, however, done some good for upscale toy stores like FAO Schwarz, which has stores in New York, Las Vegas and Chicago.

"I think with the recalls that have gone on, this helps ... parents are starting to ask a lot more questions about toys and looking for higher quality and that's been a benefit to us," Chief Executive Ed Schmults said in an interview on Friday.

Shoppers, however, were not worry-free.

The consumers fretting about toys made in China, were typically those with younger children.

"That's one of the reasons we have not bought much stuff for Shane this year," said Stephanie Ripps of New York, referring to her 7-month-old son over the din at the Toys "R" Us.

"It's not going to stop me," said Carolyn Diggs, found at a Macy's store in Washington D.C. "My son's five (years old) and does not put stuff in his mouth anymore."

(Additional reporting by Martinne Geller in New York and Rachelle Younglai in Washington D.C., editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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