Parents beware, Zhu Zhu Pet madness is spreading. It's highly contagious and has been known to infect small children -- and their parents. (Please do not confuse this particular malady with Tickle Me Elmo disease.)
In a toy trend that's seemingly come out of nowhere, holiday shoppers are going nuts over Zhu Zhu Pets, the tiny robotic hamsters that seem to do little else besides drive tiny metallic cars and make cute noises.
Where did this bewildering retail trend come from? Last week, BusinessWeek took a look.
"The pets are made by Cepia, a seven-year-old outfit in St. Louis. It's the second toy startup for company CEO Russell Hornsby, a Mattel veteran who says his first company, Trendmasters, went under in the 2002 recession after his bank cut his funding...Hornsby, 56, says Zhu Zhus were inspired by his own family's pet hamster (which, regrettably, isn't around to bask in the fame: It got eaten by the family cat). The toys were just a prototype as recently as last November. The company tested them with focus groups of kids at Wal-Mart (WMT) and Toy "R" Us stores in Phoenix this past May. The company even changed the product name from Go Go Pets right before the September retail launch."
Which doesn't exactly explain the appeal of the toys during this holiday season. At $7.99 each, they're certainly priced for our economic times. And, as the New York Times put it, "Children are delighted at how they coo and scoot about unpredictably. Parents are delighted not to have to clean up after them."
As the crowds of shoppers began lining up late Thursday night for Black Friday sales, Zhu Zhu pets have caused minor riots across the country. Even Bloomberg reported on this year's most annoying and inexplicably ubiquitous holiday toy.
Toys "R" Us, based in Wayne, New Jersey, opened stores at midnight, five hours earlier than last year, offering 220 doorbusters, compared with 150 in 2008. It promised to have thousands of the Zhu Zhu Pets, the robot hamsters that have sold out in recent months.
"We have been more aggressive than ever before in our marketing and in our pricing," Toys "R" Us Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jerry Storch said in a telephone interview Nov. 25.
My Fox Tampa Bay got some live footage of near-rabid Zhu Zhu hunters in action. Interestingly, even some of the shoppers who lined up at Toys R' Us in Clearwater, Florida, were a bit confused as to why they were buying the Zhu Zhu Pet.
As My Fox Tampa Bay's reporter put it, "It was hard to pick out one voice above the din, but cries of 'Where are you?' and 'Pass it! Pass it!' were audible as the boxes disappeared."
In the below video, one shopper adds: "I don't know what we got, but we got it, girl."
WATCH My Fox Tampa Bay's report: