This year’s hot holiday toy comes encased in a big speckled egg.
And it’s sparking a level of mania not seen in years. Desperate parents, along with opportunistic resellers, are lining up outside of big-box stores in the predawn hours every morning in the hopes of getting their hands on the new curious novelty that often sells out within seconds.
While you may not have heard of them yet, Hatchimals first hit stores in early October and quickly sold out within the first few weeks. The plush toys make cute noises and can be trained to walk and talk. But the big allure is watching them hatch.
Retailers and consumers alike are going to extreme measures to get them in time for Christmas. Hatchimals, which normally sell for about $60, are now being resold for two to four times the price on sites like eBay and by third-party sellers on Amazon.com and Walmart.com.
“I’ve been tracking the toy industry for 12 years — I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like this,” said Juli Lennett, a toy analyst with the NPD Group. “It’s the Tickle Me Elmo of 2016.”
The frenzy also has been compared to that for other “must-have” toys from previous decades such as Cabbage Patch Kids, Furbies and ZhuZhu Pets.
Must-have items can drive traffic and excitement during the holidays, the biggest time of year for toy sales. Target Corp., for example, does about half of its annual toy sales in the fourth quarter.
To help alleviate the shortage, Canada-based Spin Master, which makes Hatchimals, is ramping up production and flying the products in from China instead of putting them on ships.
To be sure, Hatchimals aren’t the only toys in high demand this year as the toy industry is in the midst of a two-year resurgence driven by increased innovation. The latest Shopkins, Nerf and Pokemon toys are some of the other big sellers.
Then there is the Nintendo NES Classic Edition, which is almost harder to get ahold of than Hatchimals. But the excitement over the gaming consoles is being driven less by kids than adults nostalgic for the original systems they grew up with.
In any case, those on the hunt for the Nintendo NES sometimes find themselves standing shoulder to shoulder outside stores with the Hatchimal chasers.
The Hatchimals were expected to be a popular item this holiday, having landed on most hot toy lists in early fall. But no one expected them to be this hot.
Hatchimals have already sold more than 400,000 units in the U.S. in their first seven weeks on the market, a much faster rate than any other toy in its price range, according to the NPD Group.
Jim Silver, editor of toy review site TTPM, estimates that two-to-three times more Hatchimals will be sold than Tickle Me Elmos in 1996, when they first became the rage.
“It’s not like they shorted the market,” Silver said. “They’re going to sell over a couple million. You can’t plan for that.”
Toys ‘R’ Us is chartering planes to fly Hatchimals straight off the production line in China to the U.S. and distributing them to stores as fast as they can, said Richard Barry, the retailer’s chief merchandising officer. He added that stores will have “dozens” of Hatchimals per store this Sunday for $69.99 as part of the chain’s “Great Big Christmas Sale” — and that the company will continue to hustle to replenish inventories through the rest of the season.
“We are doing whatever it takes to get stuff here as fast as we possibly can,” he said. “I can assure you we’ll be doing that right until the doors close on Christmas Eve.”
In the meantime, he said the chain’s stores are being inundated with phone calls from customers asking if they have any in stock.
“We’re seeing people at 4 a.m. in the morning asking our night crew managers, ‘Did you get a delivery overnight?’ and waiting in line to see whether [the] product is available,” he said.
Wal-Mart sold out of its replenished supply of Hatchimals within minutes on Thanksgiving Day. Target stores have been getting small batches of new products — often just four to six at a time — that are immediately being snatched up by customers, who frequently check Target.com to see which stores might have gotten in some more stock overnight and wait for store doors to open.
“The team has been working unbelievably hard to keep Hatchimals on the shelves,” said Lee Henderson, a Target spokesman. “They’re literally getting pushed to stores as quickly as possible.”
Hatchimals also have led to a frenzy in Canada and England and have easily become Spin Master’s fastest selling product, said James Martin, Spin Master senior vice president.
The toymaker, he said, is as surprised — if not more — about the huge response. The company met with analysts and retailers in advance to forecast demand, comparing sales of similar items and similar price points. Then Spin Master brought in some extra inventory because it felt bullish about the product, he said.
“We knew we had a good toy, but you can’t predict this,” he said. “Going back six months, there’s nobody who would have ever made the bet it could be this big this fast.”
He promised there is still “significant quantity” coming in between now and Christmas. And for those who can wait, there will be reinforcements in January.
As for those reselling the products at inflated prices, he said Spin Master doesn’t support the practice.
“They have a right to do it, but for us it takes away some of the magic,” he said. “It’s a little heartbreaking to think someone would have to spend that much to get this.”
So why has Hatchimals struck gold?
“It’s the magic of actually seeing your pet being hatched,” said Silver of the TTPM toy review site.
Spin Master says it takes 10 to 40 minutes of holding and touching the egg for it to hatch. Silver’s toy testers found it took more like 30 minutes to two hours.
“The anticipation a child has is breathtaking,” Silver said. “The toy industry hasn’t seen anything like this.”
Once it’s hatched, the toy continues to evolve and learn as the child nurtures and plays with it.
On Thursday morning, three people stood outside the Target store in Richfield, shivering in the misty cold rain and waiting for the doors to open at 7 a.m. in the hopes of getting some Hatchimals.
One was a grandmother who scoured for Cabbage Patch Kids and Beanie Babies a decade or more ago for her own kids. Another wanted one to resell on eBay.
The third was a father whose 6-year-old daughter had become enthralled by her friends’ Hatchimals. He had already been to another Target store that morning.
He and his fellow treasure hunters were in luck. When the store opened, it had four of the toys in stock.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” he said.