Toy Hamster Shortage Has Some Parents Paying High Prices

Filed under: In The News

Zhu Zhu Pets, which retail for $8, are this year's bona fide must-have toy, following in the footsteps of past crazes for Tickle Me Elmo and Cabbage Patch Kids. Credit: Mark Lennihan, AP

Would you pay $60 for a fake hamster? A lot of parents would. Bear in mind this is no ordinary fake hamster. It can scoot around the floor and generate audio effects -- like the sound of a toilet flushing. Cute. But is it $60 worth of cute? Never underestimate the power of a toy craze -- or the lengths (and prices) parents will go to satisfy their hamster-crazed kiddies.

The Zhu Zhu pet hamster is this year's Tickle Me Elmo and Cabbage Patch Kid all rolled up into one electronic fur ball. The individual hamsters usually retail for about $10.

However, the craze being what it is, supplies are low at Toys-R-Us, Target and the usual places one can obtain robotic rodentia.

So some Zhu Zhu peddlers online are jacking up the price -- sometimes as much as six times more than store prices.

ConsumerAffairs.com reports that relief is in sight. Toymakers at Cepia LLC in St. Louis have ordered Santa's elves (or in this case, Chinese laborers) to grind out 200,000 hamsters a day.

"We have ramped up production of Zhu Zhu Pets in China," Natalie Hornsby, the company's director of marketing and brand development, tells ConsumerAffairs.com. "We originally worked with one major factory. We are now working with four factories."

Millions of kids think it's worth it.

The furry little darlings, unlike the real thing, don't poop, die or generally stink up the joint. And in addition to simulating the sound of a toilet flushing, they can also sound like they're brushing their tiny teeth or responding to an alarm clock.

Mr. Squiggles -- a Zhu Zhu described as a "laid-back surfer hamster" -- just sold on Amazon.com for $100

Hornsby tells ConsumerAffairs.com she finds that anything but adorable. "We do not condone the price gouging that is occurring on eBay and Amazon," she says.

But what can anxious parents do?

"We are advising consumers to call retailers and check for shipment dates," Hornsby tells ConsumerAffairs.com. "Typically, you have the best chance to get a Zhu Zhu pet if you arrive just before store opening."

Executives at Toys-R-Us assure the Website their stores will continue to receive the hamsters throughout December. If that doesn't help parents sleep at night, company spokeswoman Jennifer Albano tells ConsumerAffairs.com they can also sign up for e-mail alerts.

"On Saturday, we did send out an e-mail to alert customers to the availability of the pets at stores nationwide on Sunday," Albano tells the site.

A mother identified as Christy M. tells ConsumerAffairs.com she didn't want to risk it. She paid triple the retail price to get a pair of Zhu Zhus for her two young daughters. She also forked over another $40 for a house for the hamsters.

"It's OK though," she tells the Website. "My daughters wanted them."

What do you think? Do parents go overboard trying to give their children latest popular toy?

Related: The season's best toys for toddlers and preschoolers

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.