Fur flew from coast to coast Friday as shoppers tried to outmaneuver each other on the first official day of the holiday shopping season to purchase a fuzzy ball of plastic and electronics with floppy ears and big eyes--known as Furby.
Toy store managers were predicting big demand for the $30 toy, and the buzz had even reached the National Retail Federation in Washington, D.C. But no one expected Furby to unleash the shopping frenzy that overtook malls and toy stores.
Retailers and toy industry experts say three other toys are almost as popular and will be plentiful during the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush: Bounce Around Tigger, Winnie the Pooh's pal who talks as he jumps up and down; Sing Along Blue, based on the "Blue's Clues" show on the Nickelodeon channel; and Talking Teletubbies, the aliens imported from Britain by PBS. In addition, toy stores at malls throughout the Southland said there was still high demand for Beanie Babies.
But Furby fever raged as shoppers rose early to race to their nearest toy store. About 250 people were already in line when the Kay-Bee outlet at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza opened at 6 a.m. The store sold its Furby allotment by 8 a.m.--frustrating those at the end of the line.
"We couldn't please everyone because we only had 150 of them," said store manager Valarie Staine. "I appreciate the business--but not some of the language we heard from a few of the customers at the end of the line. Fortunately, the customers didn't yell at each other."
Some shoppers did turn on rival Furby-seekers at a Wal-Mart in Tewksbury, Mass. Police were called to control an unruly crowd awaiting the store's 6 a.m. opening.
"Customers had been waiting a long time and some began to yell at each other," said Amy O'Carroll, a salesclerk in the toy department. "When they learned there were no Furbys, some threatened to hit the store manager and some said they wouldn't leave without a Furby."
The situation was calmer in San Francisco, even though there were no Furbys to be had.
"We had a lot of calls looking for Furbys but we won't have any in our store until January," said David Flury, general manager of the FAO Schwarz store in San Francisco.
The interactive Furby, manufactured by Hasbro Inc.'s Tiger Electronics division, has a vocabulary of nearly 200 English words and speaks a "language" called Furbish. Tiger says the toy responds to external stimuli, calling it "animatronic."
Furby wasn't the only hot-selling toy Friday. Lured by the offer of a limited-edition Winnie the Pooh doll, about 200 shoppers lined up outside the Disney Store at the Westside Pavilion in Los Angeles when it opened at 8 a.m.
Only consumers with vouchers were allowed to buy the toy, and Disney Store employees handed out the certificates to those awaiting the store opening.
Pooh-seekers who arrived shortly after the store opened were disappointed. The early-birds snapped up the 200 Pooh dolls that were available.
Some adult shoppers were immune to Friday's toy craze.
"It's more important to get kids something practical," said Harry Colt, a shopper at the Westside Pavilion. "We bought clothes for the kids. Kids have a short-term interest in any particular toy. Weeks after they get a toy, they can't remember who gave it to them."
Hoping to make a good impression, adult Furby-seekers continued to line up at the Westside Pavilion's Kay-Bee on Friday afternoon--long after the store had sold its allotment of 120.
The store had posted a sign that said, "Furby Sold Out," but agitated shoppers in the line said they hoped to leave a written order for the toy.
Among those in line was a calm Cathy Smith. She had already obtained a Furby through a contact at a store at another mall.
"I guess it helps to have connections," she said.
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Tamagotchi's Virtual Pets, shown at right, topped the list of the best-selling toys of 1997. A look at the hottest toys last Christmas, ranked by dollar sales:
Rank/Toy Manufacturer Average retail price 1 Tamagotchi Virtual Pet Bandai America $14.50 2 Sesame Street Tickle Me Elmo Tyco Preschool $28.24 3 Holiday Barbie '97 Mattel $31.87 4 Giga Pets Tiger Electronics $10.01 5 Star Wars figure Hasbro Toy Group $4.82 6 Star Wars figure Hasbro Toy Group $4.79 7 Sesame Street Tyco Preschool $14.42 7 Tickle Me Elmo (11-inch) 8 Jeep Wrangler Fisher-Price $188.91 9 Nano Virtual Pet Playmates Toys $14.81 10 Super Talk! Fisher-Price $220.54 10 Barbie Sun Jammer 4X4
Although Furby didn't make the top 10 in October, it could be the season's biggest hit. Talking Teletubbies, shown below, became the best-selling toy in October out of all new toys this year. Top-selling playthings introduced this year for October:
Retail Rank/Toy Manufacturer price 1 Talking Teletubbies Hasbro $24.78 2 Bounce Around Tigger Mattel $27.76 3 Holiday Barbie '98 Mattel $32.06 4 Sing Along Blue Tyco Preschool $19.65 5 NASCAR Barbie Mattel $26.88 6 Amazing Amy Playmates Toys $64.16 7 Kelly & Tommy Jeep Power Wheels Mattel $16.97 8 Teletubbies (plush) Hasbro $9.98 9 Chuck My Talkin' Truck Hasbro $31.08 10 Barney Song Magic Banjo Hasbro $25.44
Source: Toy Manufacturers of America