Consider the holiday retail race to be in full swing, as both Wal-Mart and Toys R Us moved early Thursday to stake a claim in the competitive toy market.
Discount behemoth Wal-Mart, which says it's the largest toy seller in the nation, unveiled its list of top holiday toys. The Bentonville, Ark. company said it compiled the list after inviting 1,000 children between the ages of 18 months and 10 years to test out contenders.
Familiar names include Barbie with the Dreamhouse set, the interactive Furby Boom! plaything and the Elmo Big Hugs toy. Newer entrants include the Sofia the First Talking Doll, the Flutterbye Flying Fairy Doll and the VTech Go! Go! Smart Wheels Train Station play-set.
The toys expected to be most popular among various age groups included the Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Crawl Around Car for children 2 years old and younger and the Nerf Rebelle Heartbreaker Bow for kids between 6 and 7 years old.
Wal-Mart said the toys will be eligible for its previously announced layaway program, which launches on Friday. The company also said it has lowered prices on hundreds of products, for which it plans to match prices with competing retailers.
Not to be outdone, Toys R Us sent executives to show off a slew of new holiday initiatives in a webcast.
The company said it will make an unprecedented investment in updating its store layouts in what it calls its "Shake the Box" fall reset.
To better highlight the booming construction toys category, roughly 300 Toys R Us stores will feature store-within-a-store boutiques featuring major brands in an expanded space. Among the more than 400 Lego sets carried by Toys R Us, some 71 will be exclusive to the chain.
The Toys R Us Imaginarium private label will also get its own in-store boutiques as the company tries to build out its education segment. And 25 kids- and family-focused tablets such as the Kurio 10s and the Tabeo e2 will get a dedicated display area like something out of a Best Buy store.
Toys R Us said it will double its exposure of party goods. The company also plans to open some 200 pop-up stores outside its existing locations.
And, like Wal-Mart, Toys R Us also pointed to certain toys it expects to sell well, including Razor's Crazy Cart and the Shimmer n Sparkle Cra-z-Loom bracelet maker.
The toy market is facing some "very sobering statistics" and "significant headwinds," according to Richard Barry, chief merchandising officer for Toys R Us.
The U.S. birthrate is at historic lows, temperatures have been low, demand for video games is declining and at Toys R Us specifically, the search for a permanent chief executive is ongoing.