The Hunt for Hatchimals, the Elusive Toy of the Holiday Season

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Two years ago, the creative and design teams at the toy company Spin Master came up with a big idea they called “Hatchimals”— an interactive, furry creature that hatches out of an egg and grows up before your eyes.

Coaxing a creature out of its shell “resonates very well with kids,” said James Martin, senior vice president and head of global business at Spin Master, a Canadian toy company that also sells Etch A Sketch, among many other products. “They don’t know what’s inside and they get excited about what they may get. There’s this anticipation that builds.”

The company, however, did not bargain on quite this much anticipation. Since their introduction in October, Hatchimals, which have a suggested retail price of $59.99, have become the hot toy of the holiday season that nobody can find. Desperate parents intent on buying a Hatchimal are waiting in long lines at retailers, putting their names on waiting lists, and even buying lottery tickets for the toy. Sellers on Amazon and eBay were asking more than three times the retail price on Friday.

Hatchimals arrive inside a colorful spotted egg. They come in five species — Draggles and Pengualas (which look like penguins), Owlicorns (owls with a unicorn horn) and Burtles and Bearakeets (which look like little turtles and bears). Rub, tap and warm the egg and it will coo, light up and tap back at you for about half an hour, as it eventually gurgles, hiccups and slowly pecks its way through the hard shell. (A video review showing the hatching and growth of a Draggle has more than 1.3 million views.)

Though Spin Master is rushing distribution by airfreighting the remaining Hatchimals from factories in China, the company has not said how many more will be available throughout December, and the shortage is expected to continue. A new batch of Hatchimals will not be available until early in 2017.

Spin Master worked to generate buzz for Hatchimals with a secretive launch, and managed to keep all images off the internet until the toy officially “hatched” on Oct. 7, which it called “Global Hatchimals Day.” Company executives also planned for what they thought would be the right amount of product supply to meet the holiday demand. The company declined to release sales figures.

“By all analyses, we thought we had enough,” Mr. Martin said. “We had no idea that it would be this big. It’s been exciting but it’s also been daunting as we try to catch up and fill that demand.”

The toy is finding an audience in both boys and girls ranging in age from 3 to 12 years old — which is a larger demographic than the company expected.

“Nobody knows why these things happen. They’re an act of God,” said Richard Gottlieb, chief executive of Global Toy Experts and publisher of Global Toy News. While the product may be clever, said Mr. Gottlieb, “it’s all about a moment in time, and it’s hard to predict what makes a product connect.”

Mandy Nigbur, a stockbroker in Riverton, Utah, knew it wasn’t going to be easy to find a Hatchimal when her 7-year-old daughter requested one from Santa. So when Santa Claus made an appearance at her family party over Thanksgiving weekend, he “knew to tell her his elves weren’t making very many and they might be hard to come by,” Ms. Nigbur said. “But I was on the hunt.”

Ms. Nigbur and three of her friends took to the internet and found a website that alerts customers to what’s in stock at retailers near them. They learned that their local Target was supposed to get a small shipment of Hatchimals on Friday, so the women arrived at Target at 4:45 a.m. and waited outside in the 20-degree cold. Their efforts paid off. They each purchased a Hatchimal, which Target sold for the suggested retail price – and quickly sold out of.

“I haven’t decided if Mommy gets to be the star or if Santa will be the one who gets to bring it to her,” said Ms. Nigbur, who said she may be more excited about nabbing the product than her daughter will be to receive it.

The chase and the rush to find the item is actually part of the appeal when a certain toy — such as Cabbage Patch Kids and Tickle Me Elmo — becomes a phenomenon, according to Mr. Gottlieb. “There is an irrational exuberance on the part of the consumer with these buying frenzies, which leads to a scarcity of product and crazy high prices,” he said.

Some parents have given up on finding a Hatchimal before the holidays. “I am not proud to say I entered into a raffle to win a Hatchimal on a Facebook group,” said Lindsey Hunter Lopez of Los Angeles, whose 3-year-old daughter asked for the toy. “It was a $10 buy-in for a spot, with 16 spots,” she said. Ms. Lopez did not win the raffle, and said that she would not be hunting for the toy any further.

Spin Master hopes to keep the excitement going well past the holidays, and promises that 2017 will bring new species of Hatchimals with more features. “We’re telling consumers to just be patient,” said Mr. Martin. “The magic is just as magical in January as it is in December. The experience is just as exciting then. In fact, it may be even a little more because you’ll be getting the first batch of 2017.”

But will kids still want Hatchimals next year, or will they have moved on?

“It’s a hit-driven industry and this is an expensive item, which really tend to sell only at holiday time,” said Gerrick Johnson, an equity research analyst at BMO Capital Markets in New York. “That’s why the company is willing to airfreight, which is expensive, in order to capture those spending dollars now; rarely do you have an item like this that works two seasons in a row.”

Sarah Gough, who lives near Guatemala City, is still halfheartedly searching for a Hatchimal for her 10-year-old daughter, but is not expecting to find one soon. “I looked at our major retailer twice and they don’t have it yet.,” said Ms. Gough. She plans to ask her parents to look for the toy in the United States. “But they aren’t really into standing in any lines to pick up toys,” she said.

To those parents who are not able to buy the toy in time, Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family physician in Pittsburgh and a parenting and youth development expert, said: “It’s a great lesson in delayed gratification.”