Friday December 1, 1:31 pm Eastern Time

No holiday home-run this year for U.S. toy industry

By Anna Driver

CHICAGO, Dec 1 (Reuters) - This holiday season lacks a ``must have'' toy with the power to transform normally mild-mannered parents into pushy, snarling beasts willing to do just about anything to score that hot item at the top of their kids' wish list.

There are no interactive fuzzy Furbies, Pokemon trading cards, Tickle Me Elmos or Cabbage Patch Kid dolls to drum up frenzied sales this year.

Folding aluminum scooters, robotic pets like Tiger Electronic Ltd.'s Poo-Chi and Harry Potter paraphernalia are selling well, but supplies are plentiful and no single item is sparking bidding wars on Internet auction sites or creating mile-long lines of parents waiting to make purchases.

Of course Sony Corp.'s highly anticipated PlayStation 2 video game might have been the exception, but the some 500,000 machines shipped to North America in October quickly sold out.

``There isn't something out there, and it is a big worry for the retailers,'' Wendy Liebmann, president of retail consulting company WSL Strategic Retail based in New York, said.

The stakes are particularly high this year because a spike in gasoline and home heating oil prices and higher interest rates on mortgages and credit cards, among other things, have taken a bite out of consumer spending. Sales growth at retail stores slowed in November, so heavy sales are needed in December to round out holiday results.

In recent years, mass toy retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT - news), Target Corp. (NYSE:TGT - news) and Toys R Us Inc. (NYSE:TOY - news) have come to rely on wildly popular toys like last year's Pokemon to draw consumers into stores with the hope that more purchases will be made.

``Last year Pokemon brought everyone into the store,'' Bryan Wojtylkb, manager of the K*B Toys store (NYSE:CNS - news) at the Fairlane Town Mall in Dearborn, Michigan. ``This year, there's nothing like that. There's no big hit, only a bunch of little hits.''

Brisk sellers at Wojtylkb's store include Poo-Chi clone Tekno the interactive dog and Mattel Inc.'s (NYSE:MAT - news) Barbie Volkswagen Beetle, while the novelty of scooters has worn off and sales have slowed, he said.

``The interest in scooters has kind of dwindled,'' Wojtylkb said. ``They've been around since this summer.''

But retailers argue that sales haven't suffered.

``We look at the fact that there isn't one hot item as a plus,'' Patti Morris, a spokeswoman for Target Stores, said. ``Because this season is not solely focused on one item, we feel like our guests shop the whole store.''

Lacking that red-hot toy, retailers resorted to heavy discounts and specials over the important Thanksgiving holiday weekend to draw shoppers, a move that might cut into profits.

For example, Target put two aluminum scooter brands on sale for $24 the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving, but only some of their 978 stores sold out. And K*B Toys cut the price of the Tekno electronic puppy to $19 from $44 in the two days following Thanksgiving, which did generate a sell-out.

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Story is quoted from Yahoo news and is not edited in any way.
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