Zhu-Zhu Pets: 2009′s Hottest Toy for the Holidays

Every holiday season, the retail world eagerly anticipates that year’s "it toy," the one item that sends parents on fruitless searches to every toy store in a 30-mile radius. This year, the winner appears to be the Zhu-Zhu Pet. These small, robotic hamsters have earned the top spot on many children’s lists and are being sold out across the country. With not enough Zhu-Zhu Pets to meet the demand, many consumers are turning to the web in hopes of finding these elusive hamsters.

Most of the searches for Zhu-Zhu Pets lead to three of the holiday-season powerhouses: Amazon, Toys R’ Us, and Wal-Mart.  Based on number of visits, Toys R’ Us is leading the pack, peaking at close to 600,000 visits for Zhu-Zhu Pets during the week of November 29th.  During this same week, Amazon trailed at around 400,000 visits, and Wal-Mart was third with just under 300,000.

As it may be expected for an out-of-stock item, people are also turning to eBay to track down these toys.  Based on the going rates, people are willing to pay much more than its retail price of $9.99. Many of the toys are listed for around $100, and some of the larger gift sets and accessories were being offered for thousands of dollars. According to eBay’s CEO, Zhu-Zhu pets are the biggest hot-ticket item on the site this holiday season.

The success of Zhu-Zhu Pets may have hit a bump in the road on December 5th, when a consumer group claimed that the toys contained unsafe levels of antimony and could be considered toxic to children.  There were reports that the toys may be recalled, and several stores pulled them from the shelves. However, just two days later, the toys were once again deemed safe as they were found to comply with US standards for consumer health.  Though the Zhu-Zhu Pets traffic to Amazon, Toys R’ Us, and Wal-Mart dropped during this week, it may have been a natural comedown from the notoriously high-traffic week after Thanksgiving.

While difficult to determine the effects of this brief scare by looking at traffic, search behavior tells a slightly different story.  During the week after Thanksgiving, most of the searches for Zhu-Zhu pets led to retail sites, toy-related sites, or those dedicated to finding hard-to-locate items.  The next week, when news of a potential recall came out, several news-focused sites made their way into the top destinations, including usnews.com and huffingtonpost.com.  By looking at these search destinations from week to week, it appears that consumers began researching the product, in addition to trying to locate or purchase it.

No matter where the search traffic is going, it’s clear that Zhu-Zhu Pets are still on shoppers’ radar.  The rumors of recall may force consumers to take the extra step of researching the toy before purchasing it"”if they can find one in stock, that is.

About Lindsay Steinbach:
Lindsay Steinbach is an Associate in Retail and Consumer Products at Compete. Lindsay is responsible for data mining and providing analysis for a wide rang of retail and CPG clients. Before Lindsay joined the Compete team she was a student at Dartmouth College. Connect with Lindsay on LinkedIn