By Mitch Lipka
NEW YORK Nov 20 Get ready to hear a lot about
the Eagle Talon Castle, the LeapPad2 from LeapFrog and
the reincarnation of Furby - all of which toy industry insiders
predict will be hot sellers this year.
These toys have all won coveted spots on multiple "hot" toy
lists for the holiday shopping season in 2012.
And that is no accident.
There is heated competition among toy manufacturers to end
up on lists like The Toys R Us Fabulous 15, the Amazon Holiday
Toy List and the Walmart Top 20 Toy List. There is a lot of
lobbying that goes on behind the scenes, some data and a little
bit of wishful thinking. There are also well-regarded
independent toys lists that are created by using parent testing
and other analysis from Dr. Toy, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio and The
As Black Friday approaches, the various toy lists carry
great sway with consumers, and there are lots of dollars at
stake. Last year, toy sales exceeded $21 billion, dominated, of
course, by the holiday season. Being on a respected or
well-publicized list can make a huge difference in sales, says
Myrna Hoffman, managing director of Seattle-based OOZ & OZ toys,
which had a big boost in sales when her company's Morph-O-Scopes
Circus Kit was chosen for Dr. Toy's list last year.
HOW THE RETAILERS DO IT
The Toys R Us Fabulous 15 is big business, says Richard
Barry, the company's executive vice president and chief
merchandising officer. Starting from the day after Christmas,
work on the next list begins. "We travel to every toy fair there
is around the world from Hong Kong to Nuremberg. From that we
start with a couple of thousand items and then we filter that
down to a couple of hundred items to a handful of items," he
Barry says that effort, which includes looking at prior
sales, helps Toys R Us prepare for the rush on toys
that make the list each year. And he is emphatic that
manufacturers do not make the call of what the retailer includes
on the list and that toymakers can't buy their way onto it.
He highlights the inclusion last year of The Trash Pack
Garbage Truck on the list. The toy, made by the Australian
company Moose Toys, became a top seller. "It's not about size,
but it's about the quality of the toys," Barry says. "People
look to Toys R Us as a toy authority."
But the biggest toy manufacturers, including Mattel Inc
, and its Fisher-Price division, do submit a selection of
products to be considered for a variety of lists. "Being on best
toy lists is a key component of all of our marketing plans every
year," says Lisa McKnight, senior vice president of Mattel's
North American Division.
This year, she says her company is betting on the
introduction of Disney's Princesses to its Little People
portfolio as well as the Imaginext Eagle Talon Castle and the
Monster High High School set. Consumers will pay higher prices
for toys (the Monster High set lists for $89.99) if they think
they're getting enough for their money, McKnight says. "It all
comes down to price value. It doesn't matter if a product is $10
HOW THE INDEPENDENTS FIT IN
At The Toy Insider, produced by toy industry publisher
Adventure Publishing, examination of toys for the 2013 list has
already begun. Co-publisher Laurie Schacht, aka the "Toy Insider
Mom," says she believes the lists help consumers. "I think it
makes a difference to parents," Schacht says. "It really helps
them navigate the process."
Manufacturers also submit toys for consideration on these
lists. But in The Toy Insider evaluation, a major factor is how
much a kid will want to play the toy. "Do we think if this toy
is given to a child, and it's the right toy, it will hold them -
as opposed to ending up on the bottom of their toy box a day
later?" Schacht says.
It is important to her to have a variety of prices
represented. Of the list's 2012 "Hot 20," 11 are under $50. Only
two exceed $100 - the Kurio 7 tablet, which sells for about
$150, and toddler-oriented tablet LeapPad2, which sells for
about $100 (and was also on lists from Walmart and Toys
There are also respected and well-established lists put out
by Dr. Toy (otherwise known as consultant Stevanne Auerbach) and
the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, produced by authors Joanne
Oppenheim and her daughter Stephanie Oppenheim.
ANY LIST IS GOOD ENOUGH
In the end, it doesn't much matter which list the toys are
on, says Mattel's McKnight. The idea is merely to get people
talking about your toy, because with thousands of toys being
released each year, manufacturers look for buzz. "They all serve
a unique purpose. We believe in all of them and don't believe
any of them are better than another," McKnight says.
But when it comes down to a purchasing choice "It's driven
by two sets of people - the kids and the parents," says Randy
Allen, associate dean at Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School
of Management at Cornell University.
Grandparents and others less familiar with what children
really want are the most likely to rely on the top toy lists,
she says. More powerful than the lists, Allen says, is that
parents are under great pressure from children and children are
under great pressure from advertisers. It is very difficult for
parents to ignore what the children want and for children to not
want what they see in the ads, Allen says.
In the end, she says, it is the parents who must make the
difficult choice - go with the lists, go with what their kids
want or just get what they think the child should have.
Consumers echo this sentiment. Dana Tutten, 32, started
scanning the toy lists earlier this fall to get some idea of
what she would buy her 27-month-old daughter Taylor for
Christmas. She is partial to the list produced by Toys R Us, but
says it is just the beginning of a process that involves
checking prices and reading reviews. "If the reviews are good I
know there will be a good chance my daughter will enjoy them as
well," the Georgia resident says.
For more information on hot toy lists, see:
Toys R Us:
Oppenheim Toy Portfolio: