The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed just about everything this year, including the way consumers will do their holiday toy shopping. Experts at the industry trade publication The Toy Insider say the pandemic presents twin challenges this year.
"It's more important now than ever to go into your holiday shopping with a game plan — not just to shop safely, but also to avoid the disappointment of a sold-out toy," said Laurie Schacht, chief toy officer at The Toy Insider.
Social distancing is easy if you shop online, but remember millions of other consumers probably have the same plan. Schact says shipping delays and supply chain glitches are good reasons to get an early start.
"After you check everyone off your holiday list, we also advise that you think about stocking up on games and activities to keep kids and families entertained inside as the weather gets colder and we're being advised to stay home,” she said. “These types of items sold out in the spring, so get ahead of the rush while you can."
This year, Schact says parents need a strategy before they start shopping for toys. Do your research to find the best, age-appropriate toys. Don’t forget to look for reviews on sites like ConsumerAffairs.
Time is of the essence
Don’t hesitate. When you see the toy you want, grab it. It might not be there if you wait.
Retailers are offering deals all season long to cut down on the big crowds that normally show up on Black Friday. The Toy Insider says hot toys are sure to sell out quickly, and there's no guarantee that a toy will be discounted later on, as they have in past years.
Know what the hot toys are and what they should cost. Target offers this Hot Toy Guide, broken down by ages. It also has a handy section for Top Toys under $30, which is helpful for staying on budget.
RetailMeNot’s Hot Toy Guide spans most of the major retailers, not only cluing you into the in-demand toys but also helping with price comparisons.
Knowing the MSRP (manufacturer suggested retail price) will help you avoid overpaying for a toy. This year especially, experts say there could be more third-party sellers or "toy scalpers" who hike up the price of hard-to-find toys, especially right before Christmas.
On RetailMeNot’s hot toy list this year are:
Star Wars The Child Animatronic Edition, for kids age five and up, selling for $59 at Amazon
Pets Alive Fifi the Flossing Sloth, for kids age three and up, marked down to $19.88 at Amazon
CuliGirls, for kids age three and up, selling for $9.99 at Amazon
The Toy Insider has also published a guide to holiday toy shopping that you can find here. It has a special section on STEM toys, such as Botley 2.0, the coding robot, for ages five and up.
Before buying any toy, industry experts say you should make sure the toy isn't a knockoff, which could pose safety issues and may not perform the way it should. Look for the correct name and spelling of the product and its manufacturer to make sure you're buying the real thing.