2017's hot holiday toys are faves from yesteryear

Last Updated Dec 22, 2017 10:20 AM EST

Deb Merdinger spent three years fruitlessly searching for a Teddy Ruxpin doll for her grandson Colton, convinced he would love the story-telling bear as much her daughter did when she was a girl. But the restauranteur's luck changed about six weeks ago when her now 32-year old daughter called to say she saw an ad for Teddy Ruxpin.

"She said, 'Oh my God, mom. Teddy's back,'" recalled Merdinger. "I was thrilled."

Merdinger was so excited that she gave Teddy Ruxpin to the three-year old on Thanksgiving instead of waiting for Hanukah.

"He went crazy as soon as he opened the box," said Merdinger. "I love that it was my daughter's favorite toy, and now it is my grandson's."

Merdinger and her daughter aren't the only ones with soft spot for the fuzzy creature that debuted in 1985. It's one of the best-selling toys of the crucial holiday season. For the three months ended in November, Teddy Ruxpin was the 39th best seller out of 30,000 toys tracked by NPD Group, a market research firm. Nostalgia is fueling demand for many of the season's hottest toys and games including Tickle Me Elmo, Cupcake Surprise Dolls, Rugrats and Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition.

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Nostalgia is fueling consumer demand for many of this holiday season's hottest toys and games, including"Teddy Ruxpin." 

Wicked Cool Toys

The playthings that have come roaring back were popular in the 1980s and 1990s, and that's no coincidence. That's when many millennials were children. Born between 1981 and 1997, millennials are now the largest generation with 79.8 million members, according to the Pew Research Center. And they're becoming parents.

"There is something special for parents about sharing the experience of what they had as kids with their kids," said Jim Silver, chief executive officer and editor-in-chief of TTPM (Toys, Tots, Pets & more), which reviews and price-checks merchandise for children.

In many cases the newer versions of these items have been adapted for today's tech-savvy kids. The original Teddy Ruxpin came with -- gasp -- cassettes that would confuse a generation practically born with iPads in their hands. Now, the bear tells stories via an app, and his eyes (LCD screens) register various emotions.

Toy manufacturers can't count on parents' and grandparents' memories to sell toys. They must also appeal to children, who are typically the ones begging for the goods. Wicked Cool Toys spent "a couple of million dollars" on an advertising and public relations campaign for Teddy Ruxpin, said Michael Rinzler, the company's founding partner and co-president.

Children needed to be introduced to Teddy Ruxpin, who doesn't come with the built-in advantage of being part of a movie or TV series. However, Rinzler said the combination of Teddy's educational component and parents' history with the bear has proved a very powerful marketing tool. He declined to discuss specifics but said since August the company had sold over 250,000 bears, which have a suggested retail price of $99.

"He is a brand that parents remember and love," said Rinzler. "He is a safe story-telling alternative."

Perhaps no item is riding the nostalgia train as effectively as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition system. Introduced in September, the console looks and feels like the machine that enthralled kids during 1990s, though it's much smaller now. It comes with 21 classic games such as Super Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda.

But unlike other popular throwbacks like Tickle Me Elmo and Cupcake Surprise dolls, adults -- even childless ones -- want to play with the Nintendo system. That has created huge demand. The console is frequently sold out, but the truly desperate can turn to eBay (EBAY), where one seller was offering a new one for $199 plus $50 shipping. Its suggested retail price is $79.99.

In a statement Doug Bowser, Senior Vice President Sales & Marketing for Nintendo of America said, "The parents like to relive their glory days of gaming, and the kids get exposed to these classic games for the first time. We love seeing families share these experiences with one another."