Cute n’ cheap to rule holiday toy shopping-experts

* “Squinkies” could be the hottest toy of the year

* Cheap price tags still key to win holiday shoppers

* Experts bet on cute collectibles, innovative toys

* Singing plush dolls, “Kindle for kids” make the cut

By Dhanya Skariachan

NEW YORK, Sept 28 (BestGrowthStock) – The hottest toy of the 2010
holiday season could be a cheap, small, squishy character
packaged in a plastic bubble reminiscent of grocery store toy
machines, said toy experts Jim Silver and Christopher Byrne.

“Never underestimate the power of cute,” Byrne said, in
explaining why he thinks “Squinkies,” the $7 collectible
capsule toys which double as pencil-toppers, can emulate the
success of last year’s runaway hit Zhu-Zhu pets.

Blip Toys’ “Squinkies,” Spin Master’s colorful collectible
Zoobles and Mattel Inc’s (MAT.O: ) plush Sing-A-Ma-Jig
harmonizing dolls are among the 16 toys on the 2010 “Most
Wanted” list compiled annually by the two veterans for their
website http://www.TimetoPlayMag.com.

While the U.S. recession may be officially over, Silver and
Byrne expect most U.S. shoppers to keep an eagle-eye focus on
prices when they shop for toys this holiday season.

That explains why 11 of their 16 top holiday picks cost
less than $30.

“Toy companies have realized that price points are
important,” said Silver, who with Byrne has compiled a hot toy
list for about a decade.

Their picks come ahead of what is shaping up to be a highly
competitive holiday season, which is by far the toy industry’s
most important period.

Last week, retailer Sears Holdings Corp (SHLD.O: ) told
Reuters it planned to launch toy shops inside 85 of its
namesake stores, just weeks after specialty retailer Toys R Us
Inc [TOY.UL] said it would open about 600 Toys R Us Express
temporary stores and 10 FAO Schwarz “pop-up” stores this year.
[ID:nN15184863] [ID:nN24220074]

Meanwhile, industry behemoth Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N: )
said it is “absolutely committed” to winning on price in the
area of toys.

U.S. retail toy sales are up just 0.4 percent from a year
earlier for the 12 months ending August, according to market
research firm NPD Group.

With such modest growth, cut-throat competition is a
given.

Plus, seasoned players are also facing new competition from
bookstore chains like Borders Group Inc (BGP.N: ) and Barnes &
Noble (BKS.N: ) and drug stores like Walgreen Co (WAG.N: ).

TOYS IMITATE LIFE

Time to Play’s top toy list, closely watched by industry
executives and analysts, also features popular names like
Mattel’s Hot Wheels’ Stealth Rides vehicles, Hasbro Inc’s
(HAS.N: ) Nerf N-Strike Stampede blasters and a board game from
Lego.

Themed dolls are in fashion too.

Mattel’s Monster High dolls, offspring of famous monster
characters, are perfectly timed with the popularity of
television shows like “The Vampire Diaries” and “True Blood”
and the Twilight movies, Silver and Byrne said.

“If you took this trend five years ago, I don’t know if it
works. There is so much to timing,” Silver, editor-in-chief of
TimetoPlayMag.com, told Reuters.

As if to illustrate the importance of timing, the release
of Time to Play’s toy list coincided with the unveiling of a
line of singing dolls based on teen heartthrob Justin Bieber.

Aside from the cute, collectible toys that inhabit most
retailers’ top holiday toy lists, Silver and Byrne also
highlight toy makers who dared to innovate.

For instance, their list features “Paper Jamz,” a $25
electric guitar made of cardboard that produces music from
touch-sensitive electronic sensors hidden beneath its surface.
“Paper Jamz” is made by U.S.-based Wowwee.

The list also includes pricier educational toys like VTech
Holdings Ltd’s (0303.HK: ) V reader, priced at $60 and dubbed as
the “Kindle (e-reader) for kids,” and LeapFrog Enterprises
Inc’s (LF.N: ) “Leapster Explorer,” a $70 handheld gaming device
cum e-reader and photo-and-video recorder for kids.

While the holiday lists may serve as gift guides for
parents, the experts stressed that each child is unique.

“The hot toy is only hot if it is hot for your kid,” Byrne
said.
(Reporting by Dhanya Skariachan, editing by Gerald E.
McCormick)

Cute n’ cheap to rule holiday toy shopping-experts