Here's what retailers are predicting we'll rush out and buy HOLIDAY HITS

November 28, 1993|By JOE SURKIEWICZ

The holidays are nigh.

You know what that means: It's time to make a list and check it twice . . . and then tackle the somewhat daunting task of shopping for gifts.

From computers and books to toys and home accessories, the choices confronted during a holiday gift-shopping expedition are mind-boggling. A casual trek through your favorite mall can induce sensory overload.

We'd like to help. That's why we asked retailers this simple question: What will be the hot gifts this holiday season?

"Let's start with the two B's -- Barbie and Barney," says Ian McDermott, senior buyer for F. A. O. Schwarz, the toy store emporium in New York.

Barbie continues to be the queen bee of fashion dolls.

"We've got Barbie boutiques in our larger stores that feature a wide assortment of special-edition Barbies, videos, play sets and games," Mr. McDermott says.

And what about your toddler's favorite dinosaur?

"This year, Barney will be more than holding his own," Mr. McDermott predicts. "In addition to puppets, there's the Talking Barney [$46], the Barney Costume [$30] and a big assortment of merchandise."

Aside from trendy dolls and dinosaurs, video games will play a key role in this holiday season's mix of top-selling toys.

"We've been waiting for the 'Aladdin' game, which will be out by Christmas," Mr. McDermott says. "And boy-oriented, macho-related videos such as Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II will be very popular."

The game cartridges ($68 to $75) are available for the Sega Genesis System and the Super Nintendo system.

For girls who love to dress up, Mr. McDermott predicts, "The genie costume from 'Aladdin' [$36] will be our best-selling unit."

When toys talk, kids listen. So this holiday season, computer-driven toys that entertain and instruct top the most-likely-to-succeed list at many retailers.

An example: Magellan ($350), for ages 8 to adult, is a globe that when touched responds in a clear, pleasant voice. It is the Nature Company's "Product of the Year."

"Physically, Magellan is a 12-inch globe on a flat base that takes Nintendo-style cartridges," explains Jennifer Kaiser, a spokeswoman at the Nature Company's San Francisco headquarters. "Simply touch any place on the globe and Magellan recites the name, capital, population and area of the country you've chosen. It can even tell you the local time anywhere in the world."

You might want to look up a copy of "History Safari" ($60), for ages 11 to adult, available from the Neiman-Marcus catalog; call (800) 825-8000. The world history book combines text, 600 full-color illustrations and an electronic quiz machine.

"It's more than a history book," explains Liz Barrett, a spokeswoman for the Dallas-based retailer. " 'History Safari' has a quiz game built into it and features lots of sounds and flashing lights for instant positive reinforcement when a correct answer is given. It's a book for kids who love to play computer games."

Adults crave toys during the holiday season, too. This year the selection in the executive toy market includes powerful electronics in small packages.

The Psion Pocket PC ($500), available at the Sharper Image, is a computer that fits in your pocket. It features software such as Lotus and Microsoft Word, as well as a modem and fax.

"It's the size of a checkbook and opens up with a screen on the top and a keyboard on the bottom," says Brian Ahearn, a `D spokesman at the Sharper Image's San Francisco headquarters.

Tired of searching the coffee table for the correct remote control? The Remote Control Watch ($70) controls the television from your wrist: power on/off, channel select, volume, even VCR functions. "It's also a stopwatch, daily alarm and calendar," Mr. Ahearn notes.

Circuit City is betting the One Four All ($15) remote will be a hot seller this holiday season, says Julie Mullian, a spokeswoman at the company's Richmond, Va., headquarters. The device handles all video equipment; a $30 version also controls stereo gear. "It's a fun stocking stuffer," Ms. Mullian adds.

And if you think the latest in telephone technology is the cordless phone . . . think again. New this holiday season is a cordless headset unit ($140) from Radio Shack.

"My 15-year-old daughter tested a prototype and loved it," says Rick Borinstein, director of merchandising at Radio Shack headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. "With the dialing pad hooked to her belt she could walk around and do four other things while she talked on the phone."

Big-ticket electronic devices will do well this year, retailers say. The buzzwords to remember are "personal digital assistant."

"The Apple Newton 'MessagePad' [$699] is a hand-held digital secretary and [business card file] that sends faxes," Ms. Mullian says. "It's really a minicomputer with a difference: You write on the screen with a special stylus. It even learns your handwriting."

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