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November 28, 2013

Old-school toys dominate holiday lists

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

That may not be good news for retailers. Sales of toys have remained flat in recent years during the choppy economic recovery. Last year, toys sales totaled $22 billion in the United States, down from $22.2 billion in 2008, according to data from research firm NPD Group. That trend is expected to continue this year as analysts predict another lackluster holiday shopping season.

"In the 12 years I've been covering toys, we've always had something selling for a premium on eBay," Johnson said, referring to the online auction site. "This is the first time we're not seeing that."

Just 44.3 percent of shoppers said they plan to buy toys this holiday season, down from 45.1 percent last year, according to National Retail Federation data.

"The problem is that what really gets people spending on toys is not necessarily the same old, same old," Johnson said. "It's innovation, compelling new toys — and we don't have a whole lot of that right now."

Even so, retailers hope to capitalize on holiday purchases by offering exclusive items. Target has 350 store-specific toys this year, up from last year's 300. Kmart is selling an exclusive auburn-haired holiday Barbie, and Toys R Us is pinning its hopes on an updated version of its kid-friendly tablet, Tabeo e2. The retailer is also marketing the Ugglys, an Australian line of electronic pets known for their bad manners.

"Kids love anything that's foul and funny," said Lisa Harnisch, general merchandising manager for Toys R Us, adding that the company has exclusive rights to sell the products in the United States.

Toys R Us, which relies on holiday sales for a significant portion of its annual revenue, spends months culling its yearly lineup. Preparations for the next holiday season begin the week after Christmas, when a team of buyers boards a plane to Hong Kong.

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