In many ways, it’s a tough time in toy land.
The challenges mean the holiday season’s hottest toys will run out fast and be difficult to restock, making this an especially confusing year for gift-giving, said James Zahn, senior editor of Toy Insider.
“The ripples of the supply chain issues have caused regional outages on certain products and it makes it very hard to predict what will be in stock where and when,” Zahn told The Washington Post in an email.
The toy industry, which is heavily reliant on holiday sales, got a boost during the pandemic as families rediscovered the “power of play,” Zahn said. Now the network of ships, planes, trucks, shops and warehouses that typically disappear into the backdrop will test U.S. shoppers, who are projected to spend $785, on average, this season, according to the NPD Group’s Holiday Retail Outlook. That’s up more than 13 percent from last year and up 6 percent from 2019.
Shoppers need to be strategic, experts say, because many retailers have already wheeled out their holiday inventory and won’t be offering the same kind of blockbuster Black Friday sales they have in the past.
“If there’s something special on your child’s list, don’t wait” said Jim Silver, chief executive of Toys, Tots, Pets & More, a leading toy review company. “Things that are sold out don’t go on sale.”
They also have to be persistent and just keep checking, said Juli Lennett, a toy industry expert at NPD. “Just because something is out of stock today doesn’t mean it will be out of stock tomorrow.”
Here’s a rundown of what retailers and experts call the hottest gettable toys this holiday season.
The great outdoors
Outdoor toy sales exploded during the pandemic as homebound families searched for ways to keep their kids entertained. U.S. toy sales hit $11 billion in the first half of 2021, according to NPD, and no category saw more growth than outdoor toys. Americans spent more than $2.9 billion on scooters, skateboards, swing sets and the like, 11 percent more than the year-ago period.
Razor’s A5 Lux Kick scooter, a remake of the classic model featuring extra-large wheels that let kids push less and ride more, is expected to be a holiday favorite. It’s also suitable for bigger riders, making it an option for adults for commuting and exercise. ($79 at Walmart and Amazon.)
For smaller kids, the My First Flybar foam pogo stick will help them get their wiggles out. The bungee-cord and durable foam model is light and easy to use and makes a squeaky sound little ones love. ($16.99 at Amazon.)
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Hasbro’s Nerf Hyper blasters are engineered for powerful fun, with motorized 100-round capacity that can fire foam balls up to 110 feet per second. (Smaller models run around $30 at Target and Walmart, while bigger models cost about $70.)
Then there’s Jenga, which 38 years after its original release just keeps getting bigger. The Giant JS6, with blocks eight times the size of the original ones, can stack up more than 4 feet high. ($99.95 on Amazon.)
Anything that gets kids away from screens is in high demand in the era of virtual everything. While hotly anticipated toys like Lego’s Marvel Infinity Gauntlet ($69.99 at Target) or Mattel’s Barbie Dreamhouse ($179.99 at Walmart) may fly off the shelves quickly, there are other offerings.
For example, AirFort’s instant, inflatable tent can quickly transform a space without much fuss or furniture rearranging. Use a box fan to inflate the lightweight fort, which comes in themes like Starry Night, Tiki Hut, Farmers Barn and UFO. The ease of use makes it ideal for slumber parties, campouts and daily play. (Available online at AirFort starting at $49.95.)
Slime remains a big source of childhood joy, be it toddler or tween, and manufacturers have many incarnations of the sticky, squishy stuff. WeCool Toys offers not-actually-delectable sensory delights like the Butter Slime Rainbow Cake Surprise and the Butter Slime Waffle Maker. ($12.99 at Target.) Nickelodeon’s Slime Metallic Mixer Studio lets kids make mess-free slime, complete with add-ins like beads, stars and color powder. ($24.99 at Walmart and Target.)
The Spirograph Animator from PlayMonster (under license from Hasbro) offers a modern twist on the classic spiral art design set, with a spinning base and LED lights that make a 3-D effect. Fun for artists aged “8 to 108,” the kit comes with paper, pens, design wheels and an animator. ($19.99 at Amazon.)
Interactive friends and fun
Interactive toys get bigger every year, with toymakers finding innovative ways to use technology to educate and engage kids. Got2Glow Fairy Finder from WowWee lets kids catch virtual fairies in a jar. They then feed, play games and talk to them. Each jar has 30 unique fairies to discover. ($34.99 at Target.)
Squeakee the Balloon Dino from Moose Toys, the follow-up to last season’s smash hit Squeakee the Balloon Dog, reacts to a child’s voice. The “stompin’, chompin’, dancin’ ” toy responds with more than 70 sounds and movements, and comes with accessories like headphones and a bone squeaker toy. ($69.99 at Target, Kohl’s and Amazon.)
Another option is Hasbro’s furReal Moodwings baby dragon. The creature’s color-changing eyes and tummy help a child track its moods, from happy to hungry to cranky. Rock her and she’ll fall asleep. She comes with a toy, bottle and pacifier. ($49.99 at Kohl’s.)
Artie Max, a drawing robot from Educational Insights, helps kids 8 and older learn to code by introducing them to basic construction and engineering skills. Not only are kids growing knowledge, Lisa Guili, the company’s general manager, said in a news release, “they are drawing inspiration to learn skills that can potentially be used the rest of their lives.” ($99.99 on Amazon.)
Fidget toys and influencer hits
Fidget toys like Pop It! are popular with younger children who struggle to maintain focus, as the repetitive motions and distinctive “pop” can have a soothing effect. They come in many colors and patterns, making them collectible. Chuckle & Roar’s Pop It XL has 93 bubbles to pop and is a Target exclusive. It costs $17.99.
Another fidget toy, Small Fish’s Infinity Cube, is so hypnotic it frequently appears in ASMR videos. The gadget keeps little hands busy in a way that is satisfying and relaxing, and it is even marketed as a stress-reliever for professionals who wouldn’t want to draw negative attention at work. ($8.95 on Amazon.)
Some of the year’s most popular toys come from lines by toy influencers, who remain major tastemakers for their unboxing videos and product reviews.
Ryan’s World, featuring 10-year-old Ryan Kaji (once the most popular YouTube channel for kids and among the site’s highest-paid creators) has a variety of big toys hitting the shelves, including the Mega Mystery Rocketship. The four-tier, 22-inch ship is stuffed with more than 15 surprises, from a space blaster to glow-in-the-dark stars and an astronaut badge. ($81 at Walmart.)
WeWearCute’s So Glittery Hand Spa is the result of a partnership between Orbeez and popular TikTok influencers Ash and Em. Kids grow 1,000 Orbeez seeds, then soak their hands for a soothing bead massage that provides a manicure without the mess of polish. It even comes with stickers and glitter for maximum bling. ($14.97 at Walmart.)
Not sure what to get? Try the local toy store.
If you need more ideas or advice, your local independent toy store typically has unique, curated selections and heightened customer service, said Sue Warfield, president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, a trade organization.
Many have seen a steady flow of early bird buyers, Warfield said. “Every retailer I’ve talked to in the past month said they’ve had their best October in a long time. They’re definitely seeing an uptick.”
Patrick Holland, owner of Learning Express Toys in Chattanooga, Tenn., said his store is in “excellent shape” in terms of inventory and has about 35 percent more products in stock than it did this time last year.
“We’ve had a lot of comments from customers who are surprised at how full our store is after visiting big box stores and seeing half empty shelves,” Holland said in an email to The Post.