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High-tech and low-tech play out at Toy Fair

BY CSA STAFF

Toy buyers, manufacturers, retailers and others, simply curious about the latest trends, gathered this week at the massive Javitz Center in New York City to see what would be the hottest products for 2012.

Technology continues to be a popular driver of new products, as evidenced by the number of toys designed specifically to work with the iPhone or iPad. However, there was also an apparent shift toward more simple toys, perhaps reflecting the current economy and the inability of many parents to shell out $100 on a toy that will only get played with a short while.

Toy manufacturers are leveraging the popularity of Apple products to offer a whole new level of play. Mattel, for example, introduced its Apptivity line, which it describes as “toy meets tablet.” Using patent-pending technology, Apptivity allows kids to take a physical toy, such as a Hot Wheels car and play with it on the screen of an iPad. Hasbro’s new Lazer Tag game utilizes the camera, in the iPhone or iPod touch along with a free app to create an experience that connects real life and video games. Jakks took the top-selling Songify app, which turns everyday moments into music, into a new toy that allows kids to create a song simply by speaking.

Social media was also a key driver of new toy development for 2012. Mattel turned to YouTube to see what girls like most about its Fijit toy to help launch its companion Yippit toy, Mega Brands turned to fans at Halo Fest for inspiration for its 2012 line, and Gund launched a new stuffed animal based on the Facebook sensation Boo the Pomeranian.

While low-tech toys going high-tech was a major trend at this year’s Toy Fair, the reverse was also true, with many popular online games and apps inspiring more traditional toys and games. Hasbro, for example has entered into an agreement with Zynga, the makers of the widely popular online games Words with Friends, Farmville and Cityville for a new line of board games.

Licensing of highly-anticipated films and TV shows was once again a big part of Toy Fair as companies hope to leverage their popularity into big sales. Geoworld made its Toy Fair debut with its line of paleontologist-approved line of dinosaurs inspired by Nick Jr.’s “Dino Dan.” Mattel hopes the buzz around the much-anticipated “The Dark Knight Rises" will have fans lining up to purchase its collection of action figures and vehicles. For its upcoming "Monsuno" line, Jakks worked closely with Dentsu Entertainment USA, FremantleMedia Enterprises and The Topps Company to develop toys and games that would launch simultaneously with the TV show.

With more consumers calling for transparency about how and where their toys are made, it’s no surprise that many of the exhibitors at Toy Fair boasted eco-friendly offerings and their “Made in the U.S.A.” credentials. Mega Brands touted its Bloks First Builders pre-school construction line, which comes in an eco-friendly bag, while Jakks promoted the return of the Big Wheel, which is 100% made in the U.S.A.

Of course being green and made in the U.S.A wasn’t just for the big companies. The aptly named Green Toys boasts eco-friendly toys that are BPA and phthalate free, and made in the United States.

No matter what type of toy they were promoting, the Toy Fair exhibitors were optimistic about the upcoming year and expressed confidence ahead of the holiday season.

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High expectations for Q4

BY CSA STAFF

Ahead of Walmart’s fourth-quarter sales and earnings report on Feb. 21, analysts have high expectations for the company. Reuters reported that nalysts on average expect to see the company’s best U.S. sales performance in more than two years, and anticipate that Walmart’s store traffic will improve.

To see more about what Reuters had to say, click here.

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Room for improvement on reputation

BY CSA STAFF

Despite considerable efforts by Walmart in recent years to improve its reputation, a recent Harris Interactive Reputation Quotient poll shows the company has considerable room for improvement.

The study, now in its 13th year, surveyed 17,500 consumers about their perceptions of the 60 most visible companies in America. Not surprisingly, a fair number of those were major national retailers who have become household names. Walmart ranked 41st overall on the list of 60 companies and 10 other retailers were ranked ahead of Walmart.

Those surveyed were asked to evaluate companies on 20 attributes in six areas including social responsibility, emotional appeal, products and services, vision and leadership, financial performance and workplace environment.

Walmart received a score of 69.25, while other retailers who ranked ahead of the company, and their scores, included:

  • No. 8, Whole Foods, 80.14

  • No. 14, Home Depot, 78.11

  • No. 16, Kohl’s, 77.95

  • No. 19, Costco, 76.72

  • No. 22, Lowe’s, 75.39

  • No. 27, Target, 74.26

  • No. 30, Macy’s, 73.63

  • No. 34, Best Buy, 72.68.

  • No. 37, Walgreen, 72.1

  • No. 39, JCPenney, 71.23

The only retailer among the top 60 companies ranked lower than Walmart was Sears with a score of 64.26. To put those figures in context, only a score above 80 is regarded as excellent, while those in the 79 to 75 range are considered very good. A score of 74 to 70 was regarded as good, while Walmart’s 69.25 put it at the upper end of the fair range.

According to the Harris Poll, this year’s most reputable brand, Apple, benefits greatly from its hybrid status as a technology/consumer product/retail company, and earned the highest RQ score to secure the top spot in the ranking. It displaced Google, last year’s most reputable corporation, which now ranks second with an excellent score of 82.82. The Coca-Cola Company, ranked 15th in 2011, and surged into third place, despite any meaningful change in its reputation rating. Amazon.com moves up from eighth to fourth place and perennial reputation elite, Kraft Foods, ranked fifth.

“We are seeing the emergence of a group of companies that garner reputation equity by being positively associated with multiple industries,” said Robert Fronk, EVP and global corporate reputation practice lead for Harris Interactive.“Companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon.com combine innovation and leadership across multiple business areas, giving them true competitive advantage.”

To check out the study, click here.

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