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Holiday shopping no time to play ANNE D'INNOCENZIO The Oregonian 10/29/02

Holiday shopping no time to play
ANNE D'INNOCENZIO The Oregonian
10/29/02
Item# holshopnotim

Product Description


Holiday shopping no time to play

10/29/02

ANNE D'INNOCENZIO

NEW YORK -- Anne Goodwin, who usually finishes her holiday shopping by Thanksgiving, has already mapped out a strategy for getting the hot toys this season for her three children and 12 nieces and nephews.

"It's very annoying when you can't find the gifts that you want," said the Manhattan resident, who has jotted down her list of must-have toys in a special notebook. "That's why I try to shop early and get them when I can."

The annual ritual of nabbing the holiday season's most popular toys is often a nerve-racking experience, but this year, Goodwin and plenty of others might feel more frazzled than usual.

Labor problems at West Coast ports, including a 12-day shutdown, have raised the possibility of merchandise shortages this holiday season, particularly in the toy industry, which gets most of its products from Asia and relies on suppliers to deliver on short notice. Given the backlog of goods on the docks, industry analysts think shipments might not arrive in stores until right before Thanksgiving weekend.

Many stores planned in advance and got merchandise into their warehouses earlier this fall, but their big worry is that they won't have time to reorder bestsellers, particularly sleeper hits. That could end up disappointing children -- and toy retailers, whose holiday season accounts for 50 percent of their annual sales.

"We always chase product to the end (of the season), but now there's an added wrinkle to the chase," said David Novitsky, vice president and divisional merchandising manager at KB Toys.

So far, there's no obvious "must-have" toy, but retailers such as KB Toys, Toys "R" Us and FAO Schwarz report some products are already in demand.

Mattel's Barbie as Rapunzel, popular since it reached stores in September, is expected to be this year's hottest toy overall, according to PlayDate, an independent marketing services company that recently surveyed 25 retailers.

Retailers have also reported that anything connected with Yu-Gi-Oh!, a Japanese game introduced in the United States in March, has become a big hit. MGA Entertainment's new collection of Bratz dolls called Funk 'N' Glow has also been strong. Meanwhile, LeapFrog's Learning System, which was launched in 1999 and continues to add new software, should also be among the top 10 toys this season, according to PlayDate.

Although there's no new video game console on the market, software-makers have a number of new games. Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" and Electronic Arts' "Bond 007: Nightfire" are ones to watch, according to Sean McGowen, co-founder of PlayDate, and toy analyst at Gerard Klauer Mattison.

Some toy stores, such as downtown Portland's Finnegan's Toys and Gifts, intentionally avoid the season's "hot" toys. Finnegan's co-owner Leo Tsou said the reason is simple: Popular toys leave little room for profits.

"If you see it on TV, we don't have it," Tsou said.

His customers prefer "tried-and-true" toys, such as yo-yos, gyroscopes and crystal radio sets.

"Their parents bought it for them, and they're buying it for their kids," Tsou said.

Tom Conley, president of the Toy Industry Association, acknowledged big challenges ahead for the industry, particularly because of the expected shortages caused by the West Coast port shutdown. But he's also worried that parents will feel too financially strapped to splurge on toys, although he said the industry tends to be less vulnerable to economic woes than other categories.

"We are concerned. Toys are not recession-proof, but the toy industry usually fares better than other categories," Conley said. "Kids come first."

Goodwin said she would reduce her own expenses before spending less on her children. She plans to spend about the same this year as last year: $1,200 each for each of her two eldest children -- 16-year-old Emily and 12-year-old Alexandra-- and $500 on her 3-year-old son Jack.

Still, merchants worry that there are plenty of other consumers, burdened with financial worries, who will be forced to spend less on toys. After all, parents pulled back on buying clothing for their children for back-to-school, resulting in a disappointing season.

Marie Carre of New York said given worries about her own job security, she will spend less on her 11-year-old daughter, Lisa. Carre has been unable to find permanent employment and works in temporary jobs as an administrative assistant.

"Kids expect there will be a reward for Christmas, but the tree won't be filled up this year," said Carre, who will spend about $200 on her child instead of the more than $300 she spent last year.

Carre also won't be buying gifts for her friends' children, and plans to spend less on nieces and nephews.

And another parent, Talese Daniels of Seattle, said she plans to spend $50 to $100 less this year on toys. "The economy is still bad," she said.





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