Nate Risely, 2, of Hurst, Tex., is photographed trying out toys for Wal-Mart's hot toy list in 2013.
(Photo: Wal-Mart for USA TODAY)
As the largest toy retailers begin to roll out this year's holiday deals, experts advise consumers to be wary of early holiday shopping.
Brad Wilson, author of the book "Do More, Spend Less" and founder of BradsDeals.com, says the best times to shop are still Black Friday and after Christmas.
"It's not something that excites me," Wilson says of the early incentives. "At this time in September, I'd still wait."
There are some exceptions, says Wilson, such as this year's hot items that may be hard to get during the holiday crush, Wilson says. Those items will likely be the same price throughout the holiday season, he added.
Online retailer Amazon predicts retro toys, licensed products and educational toys will still be big this year, according to John Alteio, director of toys for Amazon.com. The cyberretailer will release its holiday toy list in October.
"It's too early to tell if there will be a runaway hit, but we're seeing several key trends continue," Alteio says.
Jim Silver, CEO and editor in chief of TimeToPlayMag.com, agrees.
Licensed and educational toys "are the categories that are important to parents," Silver said.
So far, Silver says, "there are more licensed properties doing well in one year than I've ever seen ... It's very odd to have years like that."
Wal-Mart's hot toy list, which for the first time was selected by a group of 1,000 kids, also reflects these trends with VTech's Go! Go! Smart Wheels Station Playset, an educational train set for children ages 1 to 5.
Wal-Mart : Wal-Mart looks to heat up hot toy list
Hasbro's Furby makes a return with the Furby Boom, an interactive toy that can be taught through an iPhone app.
Playskool's Big Hugs Elmo - which hugs, dances and sings for children - also made it onto Wal-Mart's list, along with offerings from Disney's Planes, Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Toys R Us : Toys R Us announces holiday incentives
For this holiday shopping season, Toys R Us just announced a 10% cash reward up to $100 on certain toy purchases through Oct. 31 for its rewards card members. The toy retailer says it will extend the deadline for holiday returns through Jan. 25. The cash-back earnings will be returned to customers on e-gift cards in November so they can be used for holiday shopping.
Wal-Mart also just unveiled a free layaway program. But the giant discounter's return policy only extends for 90 days from the time of purchase, which could be a disincentive for many holiday shoppers. Spokeswoman Danit Marquandt says store managers have the final decision on all returns, suggesting it's always worth it to ask.
Toys R Us says it's bringing back its free layaway program through Dec. 15, with no minimum purchase requirement. And, for the first time, customers will be able to make layaway payments online. A "Red Hot Deal" program will offer what Toys R Us calls big savings on certain products - a clear shot at rival Wal-Mart's aggressive toy pricing.
Here are Wal-Mart's top 20 "chosen by kids" hot toys
18 months to 2 years
VTech Go! Go! Smart Wheels Train Station Playset
Baby Alive Real Surprises Doll
Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Crawl Around Car
Little People Fun Sounds Farm
Playskool Sesame Street Big Hugs Elmo
3 to 5 years:
Doc McStuffins Get Better Check Up Center
Fisher Price Imaginext DC Super Friends Batcave
Sofia the First Talking Doll and Animal Friends
FurReal Friends Cuddles My Giggly Monkey
Disney Planes Dusty Crophopper Wing Control RC
6 to 7 years:
Hot Wheels Triple Track Twister
Nerf Rebelle Heartbreaker Bow
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Secret Sewer Lair Playset
Flutterbye Flying Fairy Doll
8 to 10 years:
Air Hogs Quad X4 Stunt RC
Nerf N-Strike Elite Rapidstrike CS-18
Crayola Marker Maker