NEW YORK - Wal-Mart Stores sees positive sales growth for high-priced toys this holiday season, Scott McCall, vice president/divisional merchandise manager, toys, told SN during the Toy Wishes Holiday Preview here this month.
While the event unveiled the season's predicted top sellers, according to research from the staff of family entertainment guide Toy Wishes, Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Ark., released its own predictions and introduced its new holiday toy marketing campaign, centered around two "renegade" elves - Wally and Marty.
Wal-Mart's top 12 toys of the season include updates of such perennials as Monopoly Here & Now from Hasbro, Pawtucket, R.I., that the retailer is selling for $28.96; and T.M.X. Elmo, from Mattel's Fisher-Price division, El Segundo, Calif., that Wal-Mart is selling for $39.97.
The list also includes exclusives like a red Power Wheels Ford Mustang from Fisher-Price, priced at $249.94. It can be ridden by a child.
It's toys with big tickets, like the Mustang, that Wal-Mart is getting excited about, McCall said.
"We are selling the higher-priced toys much earlier than the others, even the Ford Mustang," he told SN. "It is encouraging. These sales picked up in late September."
Following a companywide initiative, Wal-Mart is carrying the high-priced toys, among other items, to reach out to a more upscale consumer segment. "We know this more upscale shopper already shops us. We know she is in our store and we are trying to connect with her. This is why we have the new Csquared home decor by celebrity designer Colin Cowie, as well as high-definition TVs and a $268 pony," McCall said, referring to the 3-foot-tall Butterscotch My Furreal Friends Pony from Hasbro. At press time, Walmart.com was sold out of the relatively expensive toy.
Besides cost, the retailer also takes demographics into consideration, McCall said.
Inventory varies by store. "This way, we have products to cater to each different economic segment we are serving. Our customers come from all income brackets."
So while some of the top holiday toys in certain stores hover near the $300 mark, others, like the Littlest Pet Shop Virtual Pet from Hasbro, which rings in at $12.84, fit the budget-conscious consumer.
Bringing children's attention to Wal-Mart toys of every price range will be the animated elves, Wally and Marty, which, the company said, "will soon be synonymous with holiday spirit."
The characters will be featured on animated cinema and TV advertisements, a comic book, various print executions, and the Internet at the highly interactive microsite, www.walmart.com/toyland.
No stranger to controversy, Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., is breaking new ground with its www.walmart.com/toyland microsite. There, children meet talking elves Wally and Marty, and can build a "Toyland Wishlist," which can be printed out or emailed to family members.
While Wal-Mart's release on the characters says they will "come to life for children this season," the site's direct interaction with children is a cause of concern for some.
"What Wal-Mart is doing is coming directly between parents and children and urging children to nag their parents for Wal-Mart products, including things that are exclusively sold at Wal-Mart," Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood told SN. The site puts real pressure on children, she said. "It is very subtle, but it is constructed so that saying 'yes' to a toy is the right answer."
Wal-Mart did not return SN's call asking for a response to the controversy. An SN visit to the site found that it sounds applause when a user says they'd like a toy on their wishlist, after which the toy is boxed up and put into a rocket marked "Wishlist."
Wally and Marty, animated "renegade elves" designed by Wal-Mart, describe the toys and say, "We'll plead your case."
Twenty-four hours after Wal-Mart announced the site, 569 people had emailed Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's chief executive officer, and Carter Cast, head of Wal-Mart.com, through an online petition started by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, calling on Wal-Mart to shut the site down, Linn said.