Toy Wars and George Costanza’s shrinkage factor

October 8, 2009

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: Sassy’s new Illumination Station

October 1, 2009
Sassy's Illumination Station

Sassy's Illumination Station

I love toys that work really well and don’t cost a lot.  Add to that a toy that works in the dark, and I’m basically over the moon.  So when Sassy sent in their Illumination Station (a twist on their Blue Chip classic, Fascination Station)…I was pretty excited.

This toy works both as a high chair toy (it has a suction base) …and as a great rattle for two-handed comes off the base. There are so many interesting aspects for little hands to explore..with the super cool feature of having the polka dotted ball light up when you spin it.

See the video in the dark.

See the video with the lights on.

As you can tell, by my willingness to video tape toys in the dark, I take my work seriously.

For a full review, visit our site.

Pick of the Day: Gamewright’s Too Many Monkeys

April 22, 2009

Gamewright’s new card game Too Many Monkeys is easy to learn and great fun to play. The storyline borrows from the classic story — one monkey is trying to sleep but other monkeys keep dropping by, not to mention the occassional giraffe or elephant.  The game play is to get your monkey sleeping all by himself–you do this by getting the cards in front of you in order by pulling from the draw pile.  Our testers loved that they were swapping cards until they had them in order. The rounds move very quickly-also a plus. Fun for 2-6 players. They say 6 & up.  Our adult testers also enjoyed playing this one!

Watch the Segment

April 2, 2009

To see this morning’s segment on Recession Proof Toys and Activities, click here.

Getting ready for the Today Show

March 30, 2009

It hasn’t been lost on us here that dollars, much less toy dollars, are tight.  As I’m working on my segment for Thursday morning on Recession Proof toys and activities…my mother just noted that one of the dolls that we really love is $40.  As reviewers we had just gotten back into the swing of reviewing products after all the lead controversy of the last two years. Now–we’re struggling with price.  Most companies have, out of necessity, become much more price aware–a very good thing.  We were expecting toy prices to go up due to all the added costs of safety testing…but there is such pressure at retail to be competitive that the majority of toys coming in for review are under $25.  I have a sense that people will not be filling the “cart” –but be more selective in the products they bring home.

I hope it doesn’t rain on Thursday…I love being outside with the kids and the crowd. There’s a lot of energy that just makes doing the segment more fun!