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How to Find the Must-Have Popular Toys of the Holiday Season

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How to buy the most popular toys of the holiday season.

Is your preschooler asking for the must-have most popular toys of the holiday season? There are ways to make sure it's sitting under your tree come Christmas Eve.

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Wondering what is going to be hot in 2013? Check out our list of 2013 Hot Holiday Toys.

The LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer Tablet. Dance Star Mickey. Zhu-Zhu Pets. Cabbage Patch Kids. Furby. Tickle-Me Elmo. Wii. All once were (and in some cases, still are) the hottest toys of their respective holidays seasons. Sometimes there are plenty to go around, but more often that not these popular toys are long-gone from the shelves at the height of the holiday shopping season. If your child is asking for a hot toy and you can't find it, don't despair. You still may be able to find and purchase one. Here's how.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Varies

Here's How:

  1. Buy early. The best way to get your hands on a popular toy? Purchase it in July. Easy to say, hard to predict. But if you see that there is a lot of fanfare around the launch of a certain product, or if folks are buzzing about it early and you think it is something that preschooler might want, it might not hurt to purchase it. Put it away with the receipts and then re-evaluate when the holiday season rolls around. If it isn't something your preschooler wants, you can always return it (check store policies), sell it, give it to someone else or donate it.
  2. Get lucky. Sometimes you luck out and the toy you want just happens to be on the shelf. If you are looking for something specific and are in the store where it would normally be sold, check the shelves -- it could very well be there.
  3. Go right to the source. Last year my son was clamoring for a specific Lego set. I couldn't find it at any traditional online or brick-and-mortar retailers and the prices at the auction sites I was frequenting were way too high for my budget. On a whim I visited the Lego website directly and lo and behold, there was what I was looking for at a great price with free shipping to boot.
  4. Be persistent. While some toys truly do sell out, chances are if a store's shelves are bare one day, they could be overflowing the next. So keep stopping by and keep calling. Many online retailers offer a service where you can get an e-mail alert when your desired toy is in stock. Sign up at as many retailers as you can.
  5. Ask for help. If you have friends or relatives living in other parts of the country or world, enlist them to scour the retailers in their area. Just because something is extremely popular where you are, doesn't necessarily mean they are in other places. And even if demand is high far away from home, the more people you have looking for you, the greater your chances that you'll find your coveted gift.
  6. Look in unexpected places. A few years ago a friend of mine was on the hunt for a Tickle-Me Elmo. One afternoon she was doing her grocery shopping at the local supermarket and guess what she found in their small toy aisle? You guessed it! While the doll was a little more pricey than what she would have paid had she found it at a toy retailer, the price was still reasonable and within her budget. So be on the lookout at any place that sells toys, including pharmacies, warehouse clubs, general stores, even convenience spots.
  7. Let something else do the work. Shop bots can be a handy tool in shopping arsenal. Designed to help shoppers find the best price on a variety of products, they can also be helpful in actually finding a product. While you have to click through to a site to see if your particular item is available, a shop bot, like PriceGrabber for instance, may generate leads to stores you hadn't thought of or even knew existed.
  8. Bid your way in. Online auction sites will more than likely have whatever it is you are looking for. The problem is, when an object is in high demand, the price often climbs steeply. A quick search for the very hard-to-find Angry Birds Knock on Wood game (compare prices) on eBay yields plenty of results with auctions starting at $.01 and going all the way up to $50 (the toy retails for about $15 normally). Many sellers have a "Buy It Now" offer where you can pay a pre-set price and get the doll without dealing with the auction. Again, these prices can range.
  9. Try a reseller -- carefully. When you visit a mega-site like say, Amazon.com for instance, and type in the name of a toy, you'll get the price that they've set, but you'll also see other buying options from resellers. Different from an auction site because the price is preset, these prices are usually always higher than retail. Take care to review any return and buying policies and double check with the seller that the item is new (if that's what you want). Also, it's probably not a bad idea to check to see what type of feedback the seller has received from other customers.
  10. Win it! While you are busy trying to secure that perfect gift the traditional way, you may also want to try your luck and enter a contest or two. Manufacturers and other companies (national and local) host a ton of contests all year round and near the holiday time, prizes often include popular toys.
  11. Wait until after the holidays. I know, I know, you really want to give your child that must-have toy on Christmas. But if you are really having trouble finding it or you found it and it costs way too much, purchasing it in January isn't the worst option. Your child might be disappointed on Christmas morning (or she might not with all the other wonderful gifts she'll have to open), but think about how excited she'll be when on one random Tuesday you present her with what she's been hoping for. You could even say, "Oh look what Santa forgot to give you!" or, "Look what I found behind the tree!"

Tips:

  1. Figure out what your preschooler wants this holiday season. Is she asking for the popular toy of the moment or do you just think she does because it seems like everyone else in the world wants it? Before you undertake trying to find whatever the must-have-toy is, make sure it will be positively received.
  2. Set a budget of how much you are willing to spend. Some popular toys start off inexpensive (Zhu-Zhu pets were under $10), but many are higher (LeapFrog's tablet retails for about $99). And those are the prices at the stores. If you end up having to use an auction site or another type of reseller, you will most likely pay more -- sometimes a lot more. Before you get into the emotion of "needing" to get your child a specific item, set a firm threshold now and stick to it.
  3. Don't be afraid to call a store to get the information you need. Most retailers have a pretty set delivery schedule and know what is coming in on a given truck on any given day. It doesn't hurt to ask when they are expecting a certain product.

What You Need

  • Patience
  • A network of out-of-town friends and family
  • A list of what your child really wants
  • Holiday circulars and catalogs
  • A shopping bot (or two or three) you trust
  • A budget
  • A little bit of luck

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