Zhu Zhu Pets — those cuddly little robot hamsters that have been the only hot toy this holiday season — are shifting from trickle to flood.
With the toys hard to find in stores until now, it will almost rain Zhu Zhus at Walmart and Toys "R" Us stores daily in the final week of Christmas shopping.
Walmart boasts 20 to 60 Zhu Zhus per store starting at 7 a.m. daily Monday through Wednesday at $8 apiece. Toys "R" Us trumpets 100 per store starting at 7 a.m. daily Saturday through Christmas Eve as it tries to push more than 1 million of the furry fellows out the door in a week at $9.99 a pop.
Normally, stores don't open the flood gates by promoting short-supply products during the final week of the holiday season because shoppers are out buying en masse anyway.
But sales have been so weak that this is no normal season.
"Having Zhu Zhu Pets early is a smart move to spread the crowds out and into your store," said Britt Beemer, an Orlando retail research consultant. "But holding a hot product promotion until the last week shows just how desperate retailers are to get people shopping."
Zhu Zhu Pets come and go from Target as soon as they hit shelves. But toy department workers at both St. Petersburg stores have not seen any for more than a week.
Stores that have them will limit purchases to undercut those angling to corral an armload to unload for a fat profit on Craigslist. The going price on eBay this week was $30 to $35. To limit a mad scramble, Walmart and Toys "R" Us will hand out tickets to the first people in line until the supply is gone.
Stores placed their orders months ago after Zhu Zhus flew off the shelves in an August test in Phoenix.
Outfitted with the same sensors as Roomba vacuum cleaners, the little guys can dart about their houses or the floor on their own. They also can hide.
Named Num Nums, Pipsqueak, Mr. Squiggle, Chunk and Patches, each type makes 40 sounds and "are true no-mess, no-fuss hamsters," said Toys "R" Us spokeswoman Adrienne Giordano.
Designed in the United States but made in China, a second Zhu Zhu litter arrives in time for Christmas.
A four-pack of Jilly, Winky, Scoodles and Nugget goes for $44.99 at Toys "R" Us.
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.