It's official. Black Friday hasn't even arrived, but we know that the 2016 season's blockbuster must-have toy is something called Hatchimals. And we know this because sales have been so swift that the product is already nearly impossible to find at stores, or even online unless you're willing to pay more than triple the retail manufacturer's price.
The creation comes from Spin Master, the company behind Etch-a-Sketch, Air Hogs, Build-a-Bear Workshop, and Tamagotchi. Hatchimals, a fuzzy interactive toy that hatches out of an egg, appear poised to be the next member of the holiday toy craze hall of fame, a group that includes the Cabbage Patch Doll, Tickle Me Elmo, Furby, Zhu Zhu Pets, and, well, Tamagotchi.
Odds are, there will be a Hatchimal on your child's list to Santa, and it may be underlined darkly and glowing thanks to a highlighter. Here's everything you need to know about them, including how in the world you might get your hands on one in the weeks ahead.
Just What the Heck Are They?
Hatchimals are interactive stuffed animals that come in five different "species": Pengualas, Draggles, Burtles, Owlicorns, and Bearakeet. The latter three are exclusives sold only at Walmart, Toys R Us, and Target, respectively. Each is a different color and design. Owlicorns, for instance, come in blue or purple, with a tiny unicorn horn and a pair of short flappy wings.
When you buy one, it's inside a magical-looking speckled egg a little bit larger than a grapefruit. After rubbing the egg for 30 minutes or so, it will start to glow, and the creature inside (about the size of a Furby) will slowly peck and push through the shell. "As far as we know, a toy that's able to hatch on its own hasn't been done before," said James Martin, head of Spin Master's robotics unit, said to CNN.
Hatching a Hatchimal is obviously the big draw, but owners also get to nurture each creature along and help it learn to walk, talk, dance, and play tag and other games.
How Much Do They Cost?
Well, theoretically, each Hatchimal sells for $50 to $60. But they've been disappearing from stores in November the moment they're placed on shelves, and they're listed as completely "out of stock" at the normal price at toysrus.com, target.com, walmart.com, and other stores. They are even sold out in the UK.
Shoppers can register at sites like Zoolert and NowInStock.net to track specific hard-to-find items and get notified when they become available online. Registration for alerts is free, and you can elect to receive updates of toy availability by text or email. These services only track online inventory, however, and won't alert you if and when Hatchimals are suddenly in stock at your local Walmart or Toys R Us.
There are some children's e-retailers accepting orders for Hatchimals right now, like One Step Ahead, but the site's list price is $100 and customers are warned that purchases won't be delivered until February 2017. It's probably smarter to wait. "We have increased production and a whole new batch of Hatchimals will be ready to hatch in early 2017," the Hatchimals website states. "The consumer response to Hatchimals has been extraordinary, exceeding all expectations," the toymaker explains, "and we don’t want anyone to be disappointed, nor do we support inflated prices from non-authorized resellers."
Where Else Can You Buy One?
Well, speaking of non-authorized resellers, the Internet has plenty of them, and they most certainly are charging inflated prices. At eBay, where sellers were listing multiple sets of Zhu Zhu Pets for $7,000 a few holiday seasons back, opportunistic entrepreneurs are asking $150 and up per Hatchimal. And as you'd expect with any must-have toy craze, some sellers are pushing the envelope to see how high the market will go: One listing was offering two sets of seven Hatchimals (14 toys total) for $20,000, and nearly two dozen other Hatchimals listings had "Buy It Now" prices of $5,000 or more.
At the marketplaces at Amazon, Walmart, and Sears, third-party sellers have been asking $200 to $350 per Hatchimals toy. Individual Hatchimals have typically been selling for $120 to $200 on eBay auctions lately, so bidding seems to yield better prices than the "Buy It Now" approach.
It goes without saying that if you are lucky enough to get hold of some Hatchimals, it's easy to turn them around for quick profits. And yes, in all likelihood the wisest strategy is to resell them quickly rather than wait with the hope that the market price goes even higher. "The biggest lesson I’ve learned about selling on eBay is to sell, sell, sell when the market is hot hot hot,” Danna Crawford, an eBay expert known as the "Power Selling Mom," told MONEY last year. “Do not sit on items too long, thinking more money can be made later because when the market peaks, it will soon wind down.”
Some creative types are also trying to cash in on the craze by marketing peripheral Hatchimals items. Sellers at Etsy and other sites are listing (unauthorized) Hatchimals-inspired fuzzy nests, blankets, and artwork to go along with the season's hot toy.
So Are Hatchimals Really Worth It or What?
It's hard to say how much a Christmas morning smile on the face of your child is worth. Some parents will pay almost any price to avoid disappointing their kids.
But we should note that plenty of Hatchimals' owners aren't overjoyed with their supposed must-have toys. At least, that is, according to the reviews on Amazon. As of Friday, 41% of reviewers gave Hatchimals a rating of just one star, compared to only 35% that gave five-star ratings. The one-star reviews are full complaints about the hatching process—that it happens too slow, too fast, or not at all. Other detractors observed that the toy wasn't much fun once it hatched.
"This toy reminds me of a furby, only way more expensive," one reviewer commented. "I paid $67 for a toy that they no longer want to play with and we have only had it for a few hours."