Desperate to find a Playstation 2 console, a Lego soccer set, or a Harry Potter Trivia Game? You better not pout, you better not cry, you better become friends with that delivery guy. He's about the only one who knows when the hot toys are coming to town.
There are a number of toys that are already flying off the shelves and will be hard to find without insider information from the guys steering the tractor trailers that pull up behind Toys "R" Us and Target stores, or from the men and women who drive those brown parcel post vans.
Stalking the delivery man is a time-honored tradition among moms and dads determined to nab the hottest toy of the holiday season. During the Power Ranger panic of '93, for example, experienced truck trackers could tell you the time (6:30 a.m.) and the day (Wednesday) the superhero shipments arrived at the Toys "R" Us Route 4 store in Paramus, N.J.
This year, moms won't be the only ones searching the horizon for the first sign of delivery trucks. Store managers, marketing directors and even CEOs will be watching anxiously to see if promised shipments of the season's hottest and most-hyped toys ever arrive.
A worldwide computer chip shortage has forced manufacturers to cut back on shipments of some toys and delay production of others. The chip crunch caused Sony to cut its original shipment of Playstation 2 game consoles in half, from 1 million units to 500,000. Another company, Toy Biz, was recently forced to delay the release of its Vmail device until next spring.
Unexpected demand is causing shortages of other toys. Fisher-Price's Slithering Jake the R.C. Snake, a radio-controlled snake designed for preschoolers, doesn't depend on computer chips, but the company didn't anticipate the demand and didn't produce enough. (Jake was a hands-on hit with the 3- and 4-year-olds at the KinderCare daycare center in Old Tappan, who tested toys over the summer as part of Family Fun magazine's "Toy of the Year" awards.)
Likewise, the $49.99 Lego Championship Challenge soccer set doesn't need computer chips, but Lego underestimated demand for a Lego set that can be used to play miniature soccer games.
"I don't think Lego knew what they had the popularity of Lego tied to soccer," said Jim Silver, publisher of Toy Wishes magazine and The Toy Book, a trade publication.
Playstation 2, Sony's $299, next-generation video game console, is already the hands-down winner of the hottest and hardest-to-find title, but it can't exactly be called a toy. It's more of a big kid's toy. Stores are expecting the crying, wailing, and "I want my Playstation 2" temper tantrums will come from 25- and 35-year-olds, not 5-year-olds.
Most electronics and toy stores stopped taking orders for Playstation 2 in May, and the stores say don't expect to get your hands on one by Dec. 25 if you didn't pre-order. (Enterprising Playstation purchasers are already offering to sell their pre-ordered consoles on eBay for $500 and up.)
Tying for second place in the hot and hard-to-find category are the Lego soccer set and the Harry Potter Trivia Game by Mattel. (Parents desperate to score the soccer set should keep an eye on the Lego.com Web site. Lego officials say they are planning to open an online shopping store on the site on or around Wednesday.)
At the Learning Express toy store in Westwood, N.J., owner Don Markell had advance notice that the Lego soccer set would be hot when a shipment he received in August sold out instantly. Markell, a veteran of the Beanie Baby craze, immediately began "firing off orders for it on a daily basis" and expects to have a steady flow of shipments during the holidays.
"That's the hot, hot toy of the year," Markell said. He also is getting a surprising demand for anything related to the "Thomas the Tank Engine" movie. "I've sold tons of it," he said.
The Warner Bros. Studio store at the Garden State Plaza in New Jersey received its first shipment of Harry Potter Trivia games last week and they disappeared within a day or two. (Mattel is producing two versions of the Harry Potter Trivia Game, a $50 deluxe version with glass and pewter game pieces, to be sold in specialty stores, and a $25 mass-market version with plastic pieces.)
Silver, who tracks toy sales as soon as holiday shopping begins warming up, said the chip shortage and unanticipated demand for certain toys could make this a rough holiday.
"I think we're going to hear a lot of crying around December 1," he said.
Silver's advice on toy shopping is "he (or she) who hesitates is lost" (or forced to shop on eBay). The toys are arriving at the stores now, but if you don't buy a hot toy when you see it, there might not be any available later, he said. "If you wait until Thanksgiving, you're in trouble."
His early scouting reports from the stores show that parents and grandparents are shopping and spending already. "Pokemon Gold and Silver have already sold a million pieces; Amazing Babies (an interactive doll by Playmates) have arrived at Wal-Mart and they are blowing out of the stores, and Let's Pretend Elmo (an interactive doll by Fisher-Price) is blowing out of the stores." he said.
Other popular toys:
Let's Pretend Elmo (suggested retail $29.99, Fisher-Price) Elmo talks and pretends to be things depending on how he's posed.
Meow-chi (Tiger Electronic, $24.99) A feline version of its best-selling Poo-chi robo-dog.