Zhu Zhu Pets sold for 900% profit; how to get yours free

If you've heard of Zhu Zhu Pets, those furry, robotic toy hamsters, you likely know they're popular. And now we know how popular.

The Associated Press interviewed Chris Handy, who, after watching a story about their newfound fame on The Today Show, bought 15 Zhu Zhu Pets at a Target store (they retail for about $8 to $10 a piece) and then sold them online. He made $1,000, what the AP says is a 900% profit.

Here we go again.

Every year, it seems, there's a hot toy, and clearly, this year, it's Zhu Zhu Pets. If you're a regular WalletPop reader, you may have already read about them here. We were covering them a few weeks ago when it looked like they might not be around for Black Friday, and if you haven't seen our WalletPop video on Zhu Zhu Pets -- well, we think it's really cute. And we also have our music video, "Black Friday (Can't Get No Zhu Zhu Pet) Blues," sung by our own WalletPop pop artist and journalist, Lou Carlozo.

But I digress. So here's what you need to know about Zhu Zhu Pets, and then we'll see how Zhu Zhu Pets stack up to some of the other hot toys of holiday seasons past.

Where you can get Zhu Zhu Pets: If you're in New York City, good news: on Nov. 27, Black Friday, at 7 a.m., the first 100 people to visit eBay @ 57th Street, a brick and mortar eBay marketplace, yes, will receive a free Zhu Zhu Pet. Good luck, and be safe and civil.

At Toys R Us, the first 100 shoppers in line at its stores before Black Friday's midnight opening, will receive a ticket that they can use to buy one Zhu Zhu Pet.

But I'm not sure Zhu Zhu Pets will quite be as zany as some of the craziness surrounding earlier toys. For starters, isn't part of the fun of Zhu Zhu Pets that they're an inexpensive toy? (Well, they're inexpensive until you start buying more than one toy, and you get all of the accessories.) If people start paying $100 for them (which obviously, as Chris Handy learned, some people will), that robs the parent of some of the joy of giving these to their kids.

In any case, here's a look at a few of the hot toys of the past and how shoppers reacted when they couldn't easily find the toys on the shelves. (Note to readers: I often link back to where I've found my research; with this story, many of the articles I found at NewspaperArchive.com, a subscription service that I pay for. It's a great site, if you do research.)

Furby (1998):These were huge sellers in 1998 and 1999. The Furby was an electric toy or robot that was a furry little creature -- there isn't really a better way to put it, I don't think. The public decided they loved them, and 1.8 million were sold in 1998 and 14 million more in 1999. The Associated Press, in a story that ran in early February 1999, reported that some people spent thousands of dollars on the Furby, even though the retail price was... $30.

Tickle Me Elmo (1996):
The toy was a huge phenomenon, as many people likely still remember. According to a story that ran in the Daily Herald, a paper read in a suburb of Chicago, classified ads were selling Tickle Me Elmo for as much as $500.

In the same paper, another story dated Dec. 16, 1996, mentions a West Palm Beach, Fla. radio station that auctioned a Tickle Me Elmo for $3,500, and that several weeks earlier, that Black Friday of 1996, a truck pulled up to a Target with 380 Tickle Me Elmos. Shoppers swarmed the truck and four minutes later, they were all sold. People magazine, incidentally, reported that during the height of the madness, at least one Tickle Me Elmo was sold for as much as $1,500.

Cabbage Patch dolls (1983): They first retailed for about $23, but people were willing to pay much, much more, as demand outweighed supply. Annapolis, Md.'s newspaper The Capital reported in 1984 that the FBI started looking into counterfeit versions of the Cabbage Patch dolls as crooks tried to exploit the Cabbage Patch craze.

In 1984, The New York Times reported that one store in New Jersey was offering to buy anyone's Cabbage Patch dolls for $40, so they could resell them for $60, and that at one store in Doraville, Ga., customers were trying to force their way into the stockroom to get the dolls before employees could put them on shelves.

But if anything represented Cabbage Patch mania, it was probably the 44-year-old mailman from Shawnee, Kan., who as the Syracuse Herald-Journal reported, actually flew to London (his wife, a stewardess, scored him a $200 airline ticket) and bought five Cabbage Patch dolls, since England wasn't so enamored with them. He returned, presented his presumably grateful daughter one--and then gave the other four to various charities to use for fund-raising purposes.

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the upcoming book, "Living Well with Bad Credit."
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