Think how relaxed you'd be if you wrapped up your toy shopping long before December.
If you can force yourself to think about Christmas before Halloween – and retailers are hoping you can -- predictions for which items will be hot for the holidays are starting to come out. And they just might allow you to avoid shortages of the must-have products and long lines in December.
Most retailers are primed and ready for toy shopping time. Toy sales in the United States increased by 2 percent last year to nearly $22 billion, according to market research from the NPD Group, and the holiday season can make up about 40 percent of a toy seller's annual profit.
For the shopper, the advantage goes to the one who starts early.
The Toy Insider, an annual holiday toy guide, unveiled its "Hot 20" toy list Monday, a peek at the top choices from a larger list available in November.
"I think a lot of these are going to be sold out by Christmas," said co-publisher Laurie Schacht. "Retailers do not want products sitting on their shelves when the holidays are over. If you see it, you should consider buying it."
The "Hot 20" has enough to get you started, with suggestions in all price ranges for babies to preteens. You'll find both Justin Bieber and Harry Potter, a rock 'n' roll Elmo, cuddly Angry Birds and even a tablet computer for 4-year-olds. The list flags toys that encourage physical activity, improve technological skills, involve social interaction and develop school readiness.
Several of the Toy Insider's favorites overlap with a list Toys R Us released last week of the 15 toys it expects to be popular. Both liked the "Let's Rock!" Elmo, the talking and dancing robotic Radica Fijit Friends and action figures that appear in a video game via a microchip, among others.
The difference between the Toy Insider list and the retailers', Schacht said, is that the Toy Insider isn't limited to or driven by what it stocks – it doesn't sell toys.
"We're telling parents what we love and what we think their children would love," said Schacht, a mother of three.
A panel of five toy experts looks through new and updated items throughout the year to pinpoint the best gift options. Cost is a concern, Schacht said, and if a toy is expensive, it has to last.
At $99.99, LeapFrog's LeapPad carries the highest price of the bunch. But Schacht said testers loved the kiddie tablet for its "stealth learning." Kids are having so much fun with the toy, they don't realize how much of an educational factor is built into it, she said.
It has a built-in camera and video recorder and can accept more than 100 games, e-books and apps. The panel could see it lasting from age 4 to 10, because the apps and books get more complex depending on the child's abilities.
On the cheaper end are the Redaki trading cards, which start at $5.99. In Pokemon style, children can collect Redaki cards and battle, but these cards have three-dimensional and animation effects.
Several items come in under $30. The DVD game "Scene It?" has a Harry Potter edition with clips, trivia and puzzles from the eight movies. The company that made Paper Jamz guitars last year now has a microphone with five vocal effects to improve your singing. And the Pocoyo flexible racetracks and Elefun Busy Ball Popper give the littlest kids ample entertainment.
The full list of 110 recommendations will come out online in November at www.thetoyinsider.com
and in the Nov. 17 issue of "Women's Day" magazine.
Toy Insider’s Hot 20
Infant to 2 years:
Pocoyo Swiggle Traks: Motorized car crosses flexible racetracks kids can switch into circles, loops and more. (Bandai America, $26.99)
Little People Zoo Talkers: Place an animal on the play set and hear its name and the sound it makes. (Fisher-Price, $39.99)
Let’s Rock! Elmo: Elmo sings, plays tambourine or bangs his drums and can interact with other "Let’s Rock!" instruments the child may play. (Hasbro, $69.99)
Poppin Park Elefun: Drop colored balls into the elephant’s ears and they pop out his trunk or belly. (Playskool, $29.99)
Ages 3 to 5 years:
LeapPad: Tablet for kids with a camera, video recorder and ability to accept apps, games and e-books. (LeapFrog, $99.99)
Chuggington Interactive Railway: Play set where engines interact with each other and train stops. (Learning Curve, $79.99)
Mini Lalaloopsy Treehouse: Mini Lalaloopsy dolls can climb, swing and play in treehouse. (MGA Entertainment, $39.99)
Plasma Bike: Balance bike with wide wheels for a more stable ride. (PlaSmart, $79.99)
Lazer Stunt Chaser: Project light from the remote control and the car will race after it over a stunt ramp. (Thinkway Toys, $39.99)
Lite Sprites: Kids use a wand to capture color and light and share with sprites and various play sets. (Wowwee, $29.99)
Ages 6 to 8 years:
Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure: Action figures get projected into a video game. (Activision, $59.99 to $69.99).
Angry Birds plush: Stuffed birds and pigs based on the popular app. (Commonwealth Toy and Novelty, $9.99)
Nerf Vortex Proton Blaster: Single-shot blaster hurls a disc long distances. (Hasbro, $17.99)
Radica Fijit Friends: Interactive robotic toy that talks, laughs and dances. (Mattel, $49.99)
Redakai: Trading card game with 3-D and animation effects. (Spin Master, $5.99 and up)
Justin Bieber Rockin’ Tour Bus and Concert Stage: Tour bus turns into a stage with lights and an mp3 dock. Doll not included. (The Bridge Direct, $79.99)
Ages 9 and older:
Alien Conquest: Alien Mothership: Lego UFO with an abducting claw. (Lego, $49.99)
Scene It? Harry Potter: DVD game that encompasses all eight movies. (Screenlife, $29.99)
uDraw with Instant Artist: Tablet that allows you to paint, draw and color at various levels and email your masterpieces. (uDraw Studio, $79.99)
Paper Jamz Pro Series Microphone: Sing to popular songs like a professional thanks to the vocal effects on this microphone. (Wowwee, $29.99)