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Thursday, November 19, 1998 Published at 17:38 GMT

Business: The Economy

Toy Story: The Christmas hits

Will they become the Christmas number one?

BBC News Online's Andrew Yates reports on what is hot and what is not in UK toy stores this Christmas. However with a recession looming, there are fears that this year could turn out to be a turkey for the billion pound industry.

They are cute, cuddly and have a mind of their own and they promise to drive weary parents round the bend.

They are Furbies, and these gurgling, giggling and belching toys are set to become a Christmas best-seller.

Queues have already formed in Hamleys' famous Regent Street toy store to buy the amazingly life-like pets, which cost £34.99 and are so advanced they use chips like the ones which powered the first Apple computers.

BBC's Denise Mahoney looks at children's pestering power
But with only 350,000 Furbies available in the UK before Christmas, some children are bound to end up disappointed.

The rush for Furbies heralds the start of the traditional Christmas toy battle that this year promises to be even more heated than usual.

[ image: Sales of Beanie Babies and Buddies are soaring]
Sales of Beanie Babies and Buddies are soaring
The UK toy market is worth more than £1.6bn a year, with almost two thirds of sales occurring over Christmas.

As UK shoppers are staying at home dreading a possible recession, this battle has rarely been so important.

Experts believe that this year there is all to play for, with a large number of toys vying for children's affections and the top spot in the best selling league.

"It is a very open year. We know that the most fought after toy is Furby, but supplies are limited," said Gerry Masters, secretary of the British Association of Toy Retailers.

The Furbies are facing strong competition from a more traditional form of entertainment.

[ image: Yo-yo sales have bounced back]
Yo-yo sales have bounced back
It could be yo-yo-yo rather than Ho! Ho! Ho! this Christmas.

The humble yo-yo has taken the UK by storm since last summer.

Top of the range yo-yos, which are made from aluminium normally used to build aircraft, sell at Hamleys for £110.

Then there are Beanie Babies. The US craze for the loveable bean bag cuddly toys has crossed the Atlantic.

Perennial favourites like Action Man, Barbie and Lego - which is now computerised - will feature prominently. They remain popular with children and nostalgic parents alike.

And the Telly Tubbies, which topped the charts in 1997, should have another good year.

Interactive toys are expected to be especially popular. A 'Babe' pig, spin-off from the cinema success, which talks when you touch its trotters, is already a good seller.

An outside bet

There are also some outsiders coming up on the rails, which could yet pip Furby to the winning post.

[ image: The Dancing Baby]
The Dancing Baby
Dancing Babies are proving a huge hit.

Popularised by the US television comedy Ally McBeal about a frustrated single twenty-something, they originated on the Internet when they were commissioned by a software company, Kinentix, to advertise its products.

Dancing Babies have become a cult on the web, spawning a host of new sites devoted to the infants who gyrate to popular tunes.

And now Dancing Babies have moved from online to on the shelves.

Computer whiz kids

Surprisingly educational toys are also proving popular.

VTech has created a range of computers for kids that could turn out to be best-sellers.

[ image: This must be Gus Gutz's colon]
This must be Gus Gutz's colon
"People are now very concerned that their kids get into computers as soon as possible - because it is so important," said Mr Masters.

The list of potential best-sellers goes on: Gus Gutz is a soft toy that was invented by a New York lawyer to relieve stress; children can stick their hand down the doll's mouth and pull out its innards. Colourful construction sets produced by K'Nex are selling fast. Bounce around Tigger, is another contender - it's a bouncy puppet modelled after the energetic tiger of Winnie the Pooh fame.

Recession looming

Beyond the pre-Christmas hype there are real fears that toy shops will have a difficult year.

The UK economy is heading for a sharp slowdown and retail sales have fallen as workers become more concerned about job security.

[ image: Will shoppers return for Christmas?]
Will shoppers return for Christmas?
Hamleys' profits have already been hit this year and City analysts believe that Christmas '98 may turn out to be a damp squib for the toy industry.

"It (the toy market) is a bit patchy. In the North (of England) things aren't very good because people are worried about job losses. We can only hope that people will think 'to hell with all this gloom and doom' and go and buy something."

Happy Christmas?

It is still too early to say whether it will be a Happy Christmas for the toy industry.

The scramble for toys does not get underway in earnest until the end of November.

[ image: Toys have become a talking point on the Internet]
Toys have become a talking point on the Internet
But whatever happens, it is clear that the Internet is becoming more important to the industry.

The example of the Dancing Babies shows how the Internet can have a significant influence on the wider toy market.

And the Beanie Babies official web page (run by the manufacturer Ty) has generated a staggering amount of interest, recording more than 2bn page views at the last count.

Some limited edition, or 'retired' Beanies Babies now change hands for thousands of dollars in Internet auctions.

Meanwhile the race to become the Christmas number one toy is likely to go down to the wire.

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The Economy Contents

Relevant Stories

19 Nov 98†|†UK
Pester power rules

18 Nov 98†|†The Economy
Christmas blues hit high street

06 Oct 98†|†The Company File
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29 Sep 98†|†UK
Yo-yo no-no

Internet Links

The Furby official website

An unofficial Dancing Babies website

British Association of Toy Retailers


Beannie Babies official club



The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

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