What Toys Sell In An Economic Downturn? Toy sellers and manufacturers are worried about smaller profits this year. Nicholas Casey, who covers the toy industry for The Wall Street Journal, says the perfect toy will be something that is inexpensive. Some stores have already come out with long lists of toys under $10.

What Toys Sell In An Economic Downturn?

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're in the middle of the holiday shopping season now, which means retailers are hoping for big crowds whether it's on 5th Avenue, here in New York City, or in shopping malls across the country. But the slump has altered the plans of many retailers, including toymakers. We spoke with Nicholas Casey who covers the toy industry for The Wall Street Journal.

What is the perfect toy, as best you can determine, to be selling during an economic crisis?

Mr. NICHOLAS CASEY (Reporter, The Wall Street Journal): You know, it's tough to sell any kind of toy. But you know the perfect toy is going to be something that's going to be cheap. In fact, last year a lot of people were looking for toys that weren't from China and were a little bit more expensive. This year, I think the pendulum's sort of swinging in a different direction right now. Wal-Mart and KB Toys, really early on in this holiday season came out with lists, long lists of toys that were under $10.

They might not be the most interesting toys. They might not have the most bells and whistles on them. In a lot of cases it's meaning Barbie dolls, you know, dolls that are old standbys. You know, plush toy, you know, dogs and things that we knew from previous years before a lot of these toys got jazzed up with, you know, different electronic components, screens, and music players inside of them.

INSKEEP: Let me - as I look at this amazon.com list of top 20 toys, it does appear that there are some toys here that aren't $10, but they're, you know, 20, 25 - the Munchkin Mozart Magic Cube, Spalding Rookie Gear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CASEY: Sounds like some great toys there.

INSKEEP: You have the "Wall-E" three-disk special edition for 22.99. The Bakugan Battle Arena - am I pronouncing that correctly?

Mr. CASEY: Bakugan, yeah. By SpinMaster.

INSKEEP: Bakugan. What is that?

Mr. CASEY: It's great for this market right now, because it is a lot cheaper than, say, an animatronic toy. It's a game that, you know, kids, usually boys, play. It's tied to a - you can have a cartoon. And basically it's a little shell that you throw, and it opens up and there's a little character that pops out. And it kind of...

INSKEEP: A little shell that you throw?

Mr. CASEY: Yeah, kind of like a little shell, like a little sphere. You know, this is a toy which is kind of like something that you'd see in the '90s or even the '80s maybe. It's not really suped up with very much. And it's been pretty successful because it appeals to kids in a way that, you know, doesn't cost a lot of money, but a lot of people find fun.

INSKEEP: Let me ask this. Given the economic conditions, are retailers going to have any success in creating that giant hit toy that everybody's got to have?

Mr. CASEY: Fisher Price has a really amazing Elmo toy that's out, far different from anything else that they had before. It's a $60 toy, though. It's selling pretty well. But at the same time, it's not selling as well as it would have if it were a year ago when everybody had more money. A lot of the toys which are - try to be predetermined hits, that determination was made by a toy company when they were first developing the toy.

Because of these long scales that they work at in the toy industry to get a toy to market - it has to do with conceiving the idea, putting it on shelves, manufacturing it in China - what none of these people could have seen was some of the economic crises that are going on right now. So there's not a whole lot of leverage that a company can - or retailer can play with right now, other than reducing prices.

So Wal-Mart and KB and some other discounters right now see sort of an opportunity that although this is not going to be a great Christmas for anybody, maybe if they can scrape off some of the customers that were going to go to other stores with a really cheap toy, they cannot necessarily turn this around for themselves, but, you know, make a better situation out of what could be a very bad one.

INSKEEP: Nicholas Casey covers the toy industry for The Wall Street Journal. Thanks very much.

Mr. CASEY: Thanks, Steve.

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