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Holiday Season Could Be Missing a Big Toy Trend

Retail: Survey predicts scooters to be top sellers, but similar products from many makers suggest parents may have an easier time shopping.

October 17, 2000|ABIGAIL GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Remember the children of the late 1990s, who pundits said were too grown-up and tech-minded for traditional toys? Well, if the nation's toy sellers are correct, this holiday season those same children will be clamoring for one of the oldest playthings around: a scooter.

Retailers are betting that this year's updated scooters--the rage of the summer from Razor, Huffy and many others--will be the top-selling toys for holiday 2000, according to the annual PlayDate survey of retailers, which will be released today.

The list compiled in September by PlayDate, a private consulting company run by toy industry analyst Sean McGowan and World Toy News publisher Jon Salisbury, is both the retailers' wish list and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The retailers' choices reflect their best guesses about what will be hits and, therefore, their biggest toy buys, McGowan said.

"Those things that are predicted big sellers tend to do very well," McGowan said. "Then again, there are things every year that can come up and be a surprise."

More than anything, the PlayDate list seems to suggest that the biggest trend of holiday 2000 could be that there aren't many trends.

As with scooters, several of the retailers' picks are actually toy categories, such as robotic dogs, with similar products from many manufacturers.

Although some items within a category will be more popular and therefore in shorter supply, the variety of alternatives could mean an easier holiday shopping season than parents have experienced in years.

Instead of chasing after one-of-a-kind Furbies or Pokemon toys, parents might be able to offer a good substitute for an out-of-stock item.

A Poo-Chi Interactive Puppy from Tiger Electronics, for example, might do if a request for Manley Toy Quest's Tekno the Robotic Puppy is impossible to fill. And if the Britney Spears singing doll from TOYMax isn't at nearby stores, perhaps a Christina Aguilera singing doll from Yaboom will fit the bill, since both made the retailers' best-seller list.

One reason for the shift away from the dominant toy phenomenon is that this year's only true must-have toy, PlayStation 2, is already a can't-have toy. Sony said last month that a computer chip shortage will cause it to miss its target number of game/DVD/Web systems, meaning that most of those who have not already ordered the console will not be able to buy it.

As for the rest of this year's top picks, even kids have shown a willingness to accept that one $100, neon-wheel, titanium scooter might be almost as cool as another.

Tech toys were outnumbered by more traditional toys, but still make a strong showing on PlayDate's list. The bestseller list includes Playmates Inc.'s Amazing Babies, a computer chip-enhanced doll that "learns" to talk and respond to its human parent. Amazing Babies also will interact with each other.

Hit Clips, from Hasbro Inc.'s Tiger Electronics, makes the list with its line of music players and recorders that let kids sample parts of their favorite songs.

Elmo is back in his newest interactive incarnation with Let's Pretend Elmo, Mattel's latest take on the popular dolls that in previous years have giggled when tickled and danced to rock music.

Also building on interactive technology, Hasbro's Tucker My Talkin' Truckbot is likely to be a big hit, retailers said, for its 47 phrases describing its dumping and loading activities.

Among other nonelectric toys predicted to be top sellers are Mattel's Harry Potter Trivia Game and Celebration Barbie; Bandai's Gundam action figures; Lego Soccer Championship Challenge; finger bikes and boards from JAKKS Pacific and SpinMaster, among others, and last year's hit, Hasbro's Pokemon cards.

An educational toy topped the list among specialty retailers: Leap Pad, a talking read-along book from LeapFrog. Retailers predicted that "Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn" from Interplay would be the bestselling PC game, followed by Microsoft's "Age of Empires." "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2," from Activision, is the retailers' prediction for top console game.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Hot for the Holidays?

* Scooters

* Amazing Babies interactive doll

* Celebration Barbie

* Robotic dogs

* Finger bikes and boards

* Harry Potter Trivia Game

* Hit Clips (mini music recorders and players)

* Lego Soccer Championship Challenge

* Let's Pretend Elmo

* Pokemon cards

* Singing dolls, based on Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera

* Top It (electronic hand-held ball)

* Tucker My Talkin' Truckbot (interactive talking dump truck)

Source: PlayDate

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