Toy Wars and George Costanza's shrinkage factor

Even though most of us haven’t even contemplated buying our Halloween candy yet (ok, I’ve contemplated but I haven’t bought any yet), the major box retailers want you to think holiday toy shopping TODAY!  Walmart has expanded its offer of  toys for $10 to 100 items…KB Toys saw that and raised it to 200, and Target is  trying to match prices.  There’s free shipping to be had…and if you’re really sharp, you can find certain Barbie dolls for as little as $5.

So what’s a toy consumer to think?

1. Toy prices are getting a much needed adjustment. All of that toy safety testing costs a lot –and if you’ve bought a toy recently you’ll know that the added expense has been passed on to consumers.  While we don’t rate toys based on price, we have had sticker shock here as we’ve watched the prices just continue to climb for the past two years. So from this point of view toy wars are good, very good.

2. Less Inventory. If there’s something your child wants for the holidays, buy it early.  Tight inventories is another way retailers have protected themselves this year.

3. Shrinkage…

One of the trends we’ve watched this season is shrinkage…which always makes me thing of Seinfeld’s infamous shrinkage episode with George in the Hamptons.

Toy makers are making many of the same type of toys they used to…but smaller…much smaller…and much less expensive.

For example, last year we featured Playskool’s $300 Kota My Triceratops Dinosaur. This high tech dino-wonder was big enough for your child to sit on! Rec_kota

This year, the same manufacturer is offering Kota & Pals  Stompers – TriceratopsRec_tristompHe walks on my desk. Watch the video. He’s very cute and he actually walks (something the big guy can’t do)…but still, this is what the price wars mean.

So does this mean you should buy only $10 toys this holiday season?

There are in fact lots of toys for $10 and under that are really great. We have many award winners that fit the bill, but buying lots of “stuff” seems like a mistake in the long run. Keep in mind that 60% of our toy dollars are spent this time of year…so bringing home toys that will have lasting play value makes more sense in terms of having toys your kids will play with after the holidays are over.

Open-ended toys and supplies are a better bet. I love novelty toys as much as the next guy…and there are some on our list this year.  The holidays are about making dreams come true, but if you’re looking to make your dollar stretch…buying more open-ended toys is the way to go.  Art supplies, games (that are played again and again), blocks, pretend props (toy kitchens, dollhouses), and toys for active play (ride-ons, sporting equipment)…all will be enjoyed  for a long time and played with differently as your child grows.

Pool your resources. If there’s a toy that your child really wants that costs a little more, have your family chip in. Much more fun to get the present you wanted, then lots of little token gifts from aunts and uncles.

The olden days. There was a time when we didn’t go to the toy store with a shopping cart.  We got fewer toys…not necessarily a bad thing.

Get Your Screwdriver Ready. One way to keep prices down…toy makers leave more for parents to do. Many toys don’t even come with the pre-drilled holes.  If you’re handy with a power drill/screwdriver, you’ll be fine. If you’re not, we warned you.

Make it count. We started the toyportfolio with the tag..we test all the toys so that “you don’t waste your money or your child’s time.”  So  no matter what your budget, we’ve tried to take the mystery of finding a great toy.   So take a look at our Platinum List!

Pick of the Day: Kota & Pals Stompers from Hasbro

Kota & Pals Stompers: Triceratops

Kota & Pals Stompers: Triceratops

I’ve been playing with this fun little dino all summer.  Unlike the BIG Kota from last season, this little guy actually walks!   For a demo and full review, visit the website today

Trends from Toyland: Hasbro's Biscuit, My Lovin Pup

Most of the hype this holiday season will probably be for Hasbro’s high tech, interactive Kota (a 40″ triceratops). At toy fair, Kota looked pretty amazing– friendly and interactive in a playful way. There is another entry in the Furreal line that should not be overlooked. Biscuit is an over-sized golden retriever that also looks extremely promising. He can sit up, give you a paw, bark, sit down on his hind legs–really great if you can’t handle the real thing.  Apparently all the new york press commented on how great Biscuit would be for city dwellers—no need to walk or pick up after Biscuit.  Biscuit will retail for $150– so again, a big holiday gift.

Trends from Toyland: D-REX

d-rex-v.jpgI got to see D-REX yesterday at Mattel’s showroom. This wireless remote controlled dino will most likely be a huge hit with kids 6 & up. As a little sister, this is just the type of toy that my brothers would have scared me silly with as a kid. With a retail price of $150, D-REX is that big holiday gift. He comes in a clever crate-like box- meant to be his permanent “hang out” when not in use. The remote control is in the shape of the bone. At first we thought that Hasbro’s KOTA and D-REX would be in head to head competition but they’re really quite different in terms of look and appeal. KOTA is much more a preschool, friendly kind of dino. D-REX will be most enjoyed by that older early school years group.

Trends from Toyland: KOTA

kota.jpgEvery year there is an animal that seems to dominate toy fair. Last year it was hard to find a toy that didn’t have a  penguin on it.  Dinosaurs never really leave toyland…they remain great props for dramatic play…but this year they have come back in a very updated way.  KOTA the Triceratop, from Hasbro ($300), is an oversized dino that your preschooler can even sit on.  Much like the company’s pony, Butterscotch, KOTA is sound and touch activated (there are 11 different touch points).  He will even roar, enjoy chomping on some leaves, and give your child a spring-action ride (he doesn’t move forward).  We look forward to testing him with our testers.