NEW YORK -- Lots of retailers come out with "hot toy" lists every holiday season, but this year Wal-Mart decided to try something different: let kids rate their favorite toys.
In a first, about 1,000 boys and girls aged 18 months to 10 years spent time over a three-day weekend in August in Dallas playing with 50-plus toys and choosing their favorites. The result is a top 20 list of kid-approved toys that includes a new robotic pet Furby, a hugging Elmo and a Barbie dream house.
Retailers place their bets early on which toys will be hits and then spend heavily to market them to spur sales during the holiday season. It's a crucial time because holiday sales can make up to 40 percent of a retailers' annual revenue.
During spring planning for the holidays, one toy buyer came up with the idea to let kids be part of the process, said Scott McCall, senior vice president of toys and seasonal at Walmart U.S. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is the world's largest retailer and the biggest seller of toys.
"It validated our assortment and caused us to think differently about this holiday," he said.
Making the list? Lots of new takes on classic toys, McCall said, like a new robotic pet Furby and a new Barbie Dreamhouse playset. TV show-related toys were also popular, including a Sofia the First talking doll, and a Doc McStuffins Get Better Check Up Center, both Disney properties, and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Secret Sewer Lair Playset based on the Nickelodeon show.
Cuddly interactive toys are also on the list, including an Elmo doll based on the Sesame Street character that gives hugs and FurReal Friends Cuddles My Giggly Monkey, a monkey that coos and cuddles.
With Christmas still months away, it is too soon to tell which toys will actually become the must-have toys of the season. But Wal-Mart plans to promote the top 20 toys with dedicated shelf space proclaiming the toys "Chosen by Kids" and with prominent positions on its website and in circulars, beginning later this month.
"We're going to make sure to showcase our top toys in a different way," McCall said.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer is also offering a layaway program with no opening fees for the holidays. A minimum down payment of 10 percent or $10, and a minimum purchase of $15 per item or $50 total, is required.