Want the holiday season's hottest toys? Or maybe you want a retro game. Whatever the goal, with some holiday toys already in stores, shoppers may want to start planning their strategy.
That may mean buying the most popular toys whenever you can and focusing on deals afterward. After its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, Toys R Us has promised business as usual, though there could be some wrinkles if nervous suppliers hold back on shipments.
"If you are looking at the top 100 toys, you need to buy it earlier than later," said Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of TTPM, an online toy review site. "If you are looking for a classic board game, you can shop later." The site offers shoppers information on the inventory of particular toys by store and also offers price comparison of toys.
Silver says that several toys like Spin Master's Luvabella, an interactive baby doll, and BB-8, a toy droid inspired by the "Star Wars" movie series, are hard to get right now.
The good news: A wider variety of stores are expanding their toy offerings. For example, J.C. Penney has opened toy sections this fall in all 875 stores that will be open year-round. And while some hot holiday toys run close to $200, there are plenty that are affordable like WowWee's Fingerlings, interactive monkey figures that sell for $14.99.
And shoppers are also starting to see better service. Target has been ramping up customer service, and it's showing up in the toy area, says Marc Rosenberg, a toy marketing executive. Meanwhile, Toys R Us is adding demonstrators for the holiday season to show people how toys work and is opening Play Labs at 42 stores, areas where children can play with different items.
Some tips for toy shopping this year:
Get the Hot Toys Early: Try shopping online because in a few clicks you can search such sites as Walmart, Target, Toys R Us and Amazon to find out quickly if the item is available, Silver says. Also, it's good to follow retailers on Twitter, where some post when they get in their next order of certain hot toys in the final weeks before Christmas.
Know When the Sales Are: If you can afford to wait, stores offer toy discounts of up to 50 percent and also bundle toy deals during the Black Friday weekend. But the best time to get deals on basic toys is two weeks before Christmas, when toys are discounted up to 70 percent, according to DealNews.com, a deal comparison website. Take advantage of deal trackers. With CamelCamelCamel.com, shoppers can set up alerts when the price of an item falls to a certain level. It also offers a price history of all products sold on Amazon.
Overall, Amazon.com offers the lowest toy prices, with Walmart a close second, according to Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing for the DealNews site, which combed deals during last year's holiday season. Target, Kohl's and Toys R Us were ranked third to fifth.
Take Advantage of Layaway: Walmart kicked off its layaway service in September and customers have until Dec. 11 to pay off their account. As in past years, there's no opening fee to start a layaway account but customers need to put down 10 percent or $10, whichever is greater. Shoppers can put items as low as $10 on layaway with a $50 minimum basket.
At Sears Holdings Corp.'s Kmart, members of the Shop Your Way loyalty program get special perks for the holiday season. They have a $1 down payment for in-store and online layaway contracts. For non-members, it's a $10 down payment. For Sears, there's no difference between members and non-members -- they don't have to put any money down for layaway in the store and can put just one penny down online at all times.
Embrace Services: Walmart offers store-curb pickup for online shoppers at 1,000 stores -- mostly for grocery items but also some seasonal general merchandise like toys. Walmart, Target and Sears also have pickup services inside the store for online shoppers. Many are trying to improve the speed of service.
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