‘Zhu Zhu Pets’ top Christmas must-have list

Toy selling for as much as $60 online

CarouselzhuzhupetsIn 1996, characters played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad battled over the last fictitious “Turbo Man” in “Jingle All the Way.” Today, consumers are doing likewise over one of this year’s most popular Christmas gifts — a toy hamster.

Zhu Zhu Pets, fuzzy, electronic toy hamsters, were created by Cepia LLC, a St. Louis-based company with a staff of only 16 employees, according to the company’s Web site.

GoodGuide, a California-based consumer group, has suggested the pets contained antimony, a heavy metal chemical that could cause cancer, lung and heart problems if inhaled. Despite the group’s claims, federal toy regulators told the Associated Press Monday the pets do not violate health standards.

Rich Robinson, associate professor of marketing in the College of Business Administration, said this is a relief to parents who might have been skeptical about the toy’s safety.

“Kids are captivated with these robot hamsters,” Robinson said. “Now that the antimony scare is passed, parents will be even more driven to obtain this toy.”

Consumers might now be feeling the side effects of oversaturation with the demand for the product.

“It’s almost consumer hysteria,” said Dennis Garrett, an associate professor of marketing in the College of Business Administration.

Toys “R” Us chairman and CEO Gerald Storch told Time Magazine the Zhu Zhu Pets are easily “the hottest toy of the year, and there’s absolutely no doubt about it.”

Patrons flocked to stores on the traditional opening to the holiday shopping season, “Black Friday,” and also for the Web-only bargain day that followed, known as “Cyber Monday.”

Originally, the Zhu Zhu Pets sold for less than $10 in stores. Now, the demand has spiked so much for the furry rodents that they are selling on eBay and Amazon for as much as $60, according to a Time Magazine report.

The Zhu Zhu Pets rage resembles similar trends of Beanie Babies and Tickle Me Elmo from the late 1990s, Garrett said. Eventually the interest fades and the toys take up residence in storage, he said.

“It’s a fad that last just months, maybe a year at most,” Garrett said.

Any time there is absurd demand for a product like this toy, the bidding on eBay or Amazon rises to incomprehensible levels, Robinson said.

“Parents likely see this as one more toy that will keep their child happy, even though it joins an overabundance of toys already in the child’s possession,” he said.

There are other gifts out there this year if one isn’t feeling the hamster craze.

Expected popular stocking stuffers from a Time Magazine gift guide include: Activision Blizzard Inc.’s DJ Hero (it also produces the Guitar Hero series), DVD complete sets of “The Shield” and “Futurama,” and a plug-in for the iPod called iKaraoke.

Consumer technology items remain a large draw, according to Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for the NPD Group, a market research firm.

With a large amount of price cuts, Baker said via e-mail that consumers were excited to shop both in stores and online for products like computers and high-definition televisions on “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.”

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