Tablets for tots will likely top wish lists this holiday season, though availability could be the problem it is every year for hot toys.
Toys R Us released its hot toy list Wednesday, and Kmart's is out Thursday. The lists offer parents a chance to get a jump on the search for the latest trendy toy.
That may be necessary: A new survey shows inventory levels won't be much better than last year, which could mean bare store shelves and disappointed kids.
PHOTOS: See some of the toys on the retailers hot holiday toy lists
A survey of retail CFOs found 55% said inventory levels this holiday season will be the same as last year, while only 25% said they increased the amount of merchandise purchased for the holidays, according to accounting and consulting firm BDO USA's report out this week. It also showed retailers are divided about whether too much or too little inventory is the bigger risk to their holiday sales. With too much inventory, stores are forced to make big post-holiday price cuts, which cut into profits.
Toys R Us is offering one solution to worried parents. Shoppers will be able to "reserve" certain toys with a 20% down payment between now and Oct. 31. The service, which is similar to layaway, includes any of the 50 toys on the retailer's "hot toy" list, as well as the 14 "contenders" for the list. It can be used even if the item isn't in stock at the time. Purchasers get an e-mail notification when their orders are available and have until Dec. 16 to pick them up.
While the economy may still appear bleak for some shoppers, some experts say the holiday season is looking bright.
"This may just be one of the best years in a long time for toys," says Tina Benitez-Eves, an editor who covers the toy industry for Gifts and Decorative Accessories magazine and website. "For consumers, finding that sweet price point is always going to be difficult, but even with this up and down economy, it's possible that consumers may spend more this year."
While many consumers say it's far too early to think about holiday shopping, some kids already have their lists all figured out. Abeni Ofunniyin, 31 of Raleigh, N.C., says her daughter is begging for an iPad. She probably won't get one, though. She's only 7. But her mother says she might find a Kindle Fire under the Christmas tree.
The hottest toys this year are about the past and the future, says Julia Fitzgerald, chief marketing officer for sporting goods and toys for Sears Holdings, parents company of Kmart and Sears.
An example of the two trends: Hasbro is bringing back Furby. The new Furby has expressive LCD eyes, interacts with iPads, and speaks "Furbish," learning English as your child talks to it, says Fitzgerald. "Furby is coming back with a vengeance," she says.
"Trends come, they go and then they come back again," says Benitez-Eves, the magazine's business editor. "But educational, interactive toys, ones with an added tech advantage, are definitely more appealing."
While Furby hasn't been on store shelves for seven years, " in our social-media, tech-infused times, the interactive component makes it timeless," she says.