Interactive cuddly toys top Christmas wishlists

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LONDON (AP) -- Christmas is coming and children around the world are preparing their wish lists for Santa.

The toy industry is keen to predict and shape what this year's must-have toy will be.

The DreamToys event in London, brings a gang of child testers together to promote the season's best-selling gadgets and gizmos.

From drones to teddy bears, who can predict which toys will become treasured possessions and which ones will be condemned to the bottom of the toy box a few days after Christmas.

The DreamToys event in London brings together a board of industry analysts and experts to pick the top toys they expect to be the most sought after each Christmas, then organises a promotional event to market the must-have list of the top toys.

One of the stars of this year's show is Roarin' Tyler the Tiger by FurReal.

This interactive toy pet responds to sound and motion commands - tickle him and he purrs affectionately, tell him to sit and he sits... sometimes.

The animatronic tiger can move his eyes, ears, head, mouth and tail. He even has a rubber toy chicken of his own to play with.

Nine year old Louise Edwards is playing with Tyler at DreamToys. She says he could serve as a substitute for her own pet.

"Because my cat used to just sit around all day and then when I found this, when it came out, I was like 'I really want this' because it's like my cat but a bit more interactive because my cat just used to sit there all day because he was blind."

FurReal Roarin' Tyler costs £134.99.

But not everything is cute and cuddly at DreamToys in London.

This fluffy unicorn has fangs - it is part of the Feisty Pets range. It doesn't make this year's must-have list.

In many countries the top-selling toy at the moment is the LOL Surprise by MGA - the same people who gave us the Bratz dolls.

These tennis ball sized toys contain tiny dolls which can be dressed and accessorised.

LOL Surprise is part of the the blind-bag collectible trend which is seeing enormous growth - in the UK collectible sales increased by 24 per cent in 2017 compared to the previous year and represent one in every five toys sold, according to analysts the NPD Group.

LOL was only launched in April this year and is already the market leader in the UK, U.S. and Spain.

Andrew Laughthon, senior vice president of Europe, MGA explains what the new LOL Surprise is all about:

"It comes with seven layers of surprise. It builds on the unboxing, every kid can unbox this, so you take each layer off and you get a surprise under each layer. The great thing about it, after you've gone through all those different layers you end up with a fantastic doll at the end."

Retailing at £9.99 it is just in the pocket money price point, but according to Frederique Tutt, a toy industry analyst at the NPD Group, demand is outstripping supply and parents might want to consider shopping earlier rather than missing out later.

She says: "I think it's now (shops are running out of LOL toys) but they're getting supplied as often as they can. But it's the number one selling toy in the US and the UK, in Spain, in many of the countries that the NPD Group tracks. So it's difficult to meet demand."

It's Tutt's job to track trends and she thinks the excitement of children posting on YouTube unboxing videos is driving the collectible market.

She explains: "I think it's the surprise element, the kid doesn't know what's going to be inside so they're really excited to open it and that brings us to some viral videos that we can see on YouTube, the kids unboxing this element of surprise for them is really important and this has been a driving trend in the market this year especially."

Another surprise is hatching inside this large egg.

Summer Meyepa is rubbing the egg to speed up the hatching process of her Hatchimal - of course, she doesn't yet know what is inside.

She says: "It's actually a Hatchimal, I'm not sure which one because they're always a surprise so I'm hoping it's going to be a really good one that's really cuddly and really cute."

It takes a lot of rubbing to warm up the baby Hatchimal but soon there is movement inside and Summer's excitement increases as the egg cracks open and two babies pop out.

"It is actually dancing, it's literally just cracked it and I've got one... I've got two, and I think that they're maybe twins," she says.

Hatchimals Surprise cost £74.99 from Spin Master Toys.

Another collectible are the Fingerling monkeys from WowWee, priced at £14.99.

These little monkeys cling to your fingers and have 40 actions and 50 different sounds.

Nine year old Abigail Silverlock has been making her monkeys react to her.

She says: "I like to collect them because then you can just hang them all over you and you can hang them on your fingers and your bags and your cardigans."

It might all look like fun and games but this is a serious business, in the UK alone annual Christmas toy sales are worth £1.2 billion according to the NPD Group's Consumer Tracking Service.

The average Christmas toy spend per child is £121 (up to age 11) with an average of 11 presents received.

But after a particularly buoyant 2016, the toy market in the UK is slightly down year-on-year and will be hoping to regain ground over the important Christmas period.

Gary Grant, chair of the DreamToys committee says: "In 2017 so far the (toy) market is down about two per cent and I think it's a lack of confidence in the market place, brought about by a number of factors, the Brexit factor, there's a lack of confidence, the general economic factor, there's a lack of confidence, rising prices, whether that's fuel prices for vehicles or whether it's interest rates that have just gone up a quarter of a point, that is going to drain an element of disposable income out of people's pockets so we're going through uncertain times. But 40 per cent of the toy trade's entire year turnover is just in a very short period of eight weeks and we've every expectation that by the time we get to Christmas Eve we will have caught up on the small decline that we've experienced year-to-date."

The Christmas sales drive is already in full swing... but will toy retailers be landing on their feet at the end of the festive period?