If you're like me and you don't have kids of your own, holiday shopping for your littlest relatives can be tricky business. During your once-a-year pilgrimage into the toy aisle, you might find yourself wondering: Are Ninja Turtles even cool anymore? Who exactly is this Princess Elena of Avalor?
To help you score a Christmas morning hit, I've combed through the slew of "hot toy" lists and sales predictions that come out at this time of year from reviewers, industry analysts and retailers. Here's a roundup of some of the gear that they think will be big sellers this year.
1. Hatchimals. These are fuzzy little creatures that hatch from an egg when you rub and tap the egg's surface. The hatching experience is a one-time deal; kids can't reassemble the egg and watch it happen again and again. But once the "Draggles" and "Pengualas" are out of the egg, they sing, dance and answer simple questions. Hatchimals, made by Spin Master, are already flying off shelves. At this writing, they were out of stock online at Target and Toys R Us. On Amazon.com, Walmart.com and EBay, third-party sellers are charging hundreds of dollars for the toys, which had been selling for $49.99 at Toys R Us.
Want some anecdotal evidence of how fast these things are selling? I recently joined a group of reporters visiting a Wal-Mart store in Teterboro, N.J., where executives were outlining their holiday strategy for us. In the roughly two hours we were in the store, the store sold all but two of the Hatchimals that were on display. And this was on a Wednesday morning in October -- not exactly prime time for Christmas shopping.
2. Tiny collectibles. One need only look back on crazes such as Beanie Babies to know that collecting has long been a favorite play pattern for kids. These days, though, sales of these kinds of toys are seeing huge growth: Market research firm NPD Group says through the month of September, sales of collectibles sales were up 64% over the same period last year.
The king of the category is Shopkins, a line made by Moose Toys. Toys R Us is betting on big sales of the Shopkins Tall Mall play set. Toy Insider, a review website, gave a thumbs up to the line's Happy Places play set. But Shopkins aren't the only pint-sized collectibles on the block: Another line called Twozies, also made by Moose, was being touted by the likes of Toys R Us and Amazon. And Tsums Tsums -- small, rotund versions of Disney characters made by Jakks Pacific -- made the must-have lists this year at Kmart and toy review website TTPM.
3. Star Wars gear. A new movie in this mega-franchise is set to hit theaters Dec. 16. And that should help generate a fresh wave of interest in a property that is a perennial merchandising cash cow. Last Christmas season, it was a BB-8 robot that stole the spotlight. This time, several new toys are vying for a spot on Santa's sleigh. Wal-Mart is counting on the Smart R2-D2 from Hasbro, an app-controlled toy that kids can send on intergalactic missions. Target is betting that kids will go for the X-Wing versus Death Star assault drone, a remote-controlled flying device made by Air Hogs. Toys R Us called out the Interactech Stormtrooper from Hasbro, a 12-inch action figure that spouts catchphrases and can respond to your movements, thanks to a motion sensor.
4. Other big-screen (and small-screen) tie-ins. Remember Trolls, those figurines with spiky, fluorescent hair that periodically become a thing, most recently in the 1990s? Expect to see them make a comeback this year, as Dreamworks just released a film called "Trolls" that features the voices of Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake. (And sorry, fellow millennials, the toys have gotten a bit of a makeover since our playroom heyday.) Toys R Us, for example, has named Trolls Hug Time Poppy, a Hasbro version of the movie's lead character that speaks when you press her belly, to its top toy list. Kohl's is offering Poppy's Hair Salon, also made by Hasbro.
Meanwhile, this year's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie wasn't quite as big a smash as its 2014 predecessor, but interest is still running high in the toy property. Wal-Mart's hot toy list includes a skateboarding version of Mikey, the orange-masked turtle, that is guided by a remote control. And then there's Princess Elena of Avalor, Disney's first Latina princess and the heroine of a new Disney Channel TV series. TTPM bets that kids will gravitate toward a simple Elena doll that looks similar to a Barbie; Toy Insider highlighted one that sings when you press her necklace.
5. A new addition to the Pokémon universe. Remember when the world collectively lost its mind for about 48 hours over the smartphone game Pokémon Go? Expect some of that fervor to return with the arrival of two new video games for the Nintendo 3DS gaming console. The games are called Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, and they just hit stores on Friday. Adobe, which has been measuring social media sentiment around all things retail, predicts that shoppers will be clamoring to buy this game. In the run-up to the holiday, it had more social mentions than any other gift items, including Barbie, Lego and the Oculus virtual-reality headset. The Toy Insider also named this pair of games to its hot list, as did Target.