Hot toy still at large

Associated Press

NEW YORK — If there is going to be one really hot toy this holiday shopping season, U.S. retailers have not found it yet.

Unlike last year, when cash registers were ringing thanks to all things Pokemon, toy stores are predicting sales to be spread out among a range of products, many technology-related.

So far, the greatest demand is for scooters, which rolled onto the scene in March, according to PlayDate Inc., a New York marketing company that conducted a nationwide survey of toy sellers.

Other toys expected to be big hits include an interactive doll made by Playmates, called Amazing Babies; electronic pets made by a handful of manufacturers; Mattel’s Harry Potter trivia game; and Hasbro’s Hit Clips, miniature electronic devices that play music.

"Last year, there was a concentration of a half a dozen products. This year is different. It is not as clear," said Sean McGowan, a toy analyst at Gerard Klauer &amp Mattison, who oversaw the PlayDate survey.

The survey of the nation’s top 12 toy retailers was released Tuesday at a gathering in New York of 38 toymakers and retailers.

This holiday season, sales predictions by toy retailers have been complicated by a slowdown in consumer spending and a worldwide shortage of computer chips, which may affect retailers abilities to meet demand for certain high-tech toys.

For instance, Toys ‘R’ Us will not heavily advertise Sony’s PlayStation 2 game consoles because the Tokyo-based company has warned that a chip shortage has forced it to halve its North American delivery, according to George R. Staley, president of the retailer’s U.S. toy division.

"I’m not going to disappoint the customer," Staley said.

What will keep toy retailers busy, Staley says, is the continuing strong demand for scooters, particularly the higher-priced, branded versions. Staley said Toys ‘R’ Us is also banking on consumer interest in robotic pets, particularly Poo-Chi, from Hasbro’s Tiger Electronics division; Tekno, from Manley Quest; and Rocket the Wonder Dog, from Mattel’s Fisher-Price.

Independent toy analyst Chris Byrne says the increasing sophistication of children is giving the toy industry headaches.

"They have a strong consciousness of the vast array of products out there, and they have become discriminating shoppers," he said. "Marketing can make them aware, but it is not going to change their sense of themselves as consumers."

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