Wal-Mart bets on 'Star Wars,' Barbie for the holidays

A Wal-Mart employee restocks the shelves in the toy department in Pompano Beach, Florida.
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A Wal-Mart employee restocks the shelves in the toy department in Pompano Beach, Florida.

With the toy industry on pace for its biggest gain in nearly two decades, Wal-Mart is betting on some familiar names to power its sales this holiday.

"Star Wars" Electronic R2D2 and a new spin on Hasbro's popular "Pie Face" game both made the retailer's top 25 toys list, as chosen by kids. Perennial favorites Barbie and Nerf also earned a nod, with the Rainbow Cove Princess Castle Playset and N-Strike Elite HyperFire Blaster, respectively. Paw Patrol, My Little Pony and Hot Wheels also made the list again.

Hundreds of kids between 18 months and 12 years selected their favorite toys. Six of the retailer's 400-plus exclusives made the cut, including "Pie Face Showdown," which will be sold only at Wal-Mart for a limited time.

The original version of that game was one of the most popular toys last holiday, selling out from many retailers' shelves. This year's take allows two players to face off against one another. Whoever is slower at repeatedly punching a button is slammed in the face with whipped cream.

Source: Hasbro

"They do tend to be our best items and they're not always the ones we might have thought," said Anne Marie Kehoe, vice president of toys at Walmart U.S. By having kids select their favorite toys, the retailer is able to buy larger quantities of the ones it expects to be a hit. That happened last year with Fisher Price's Beatbo, which Kehoe said Wal-Mart didn't realize would be so popular.

Boosted by the "Star Wars" franchise, U.S. toy sales increased 6.7 percent last year, to $19.4 billion, according to The NPD Group. While that marked the industry's most robust pace of growth in more than a decade, NPD expects this year's revenue to increase roughly 7 percent.

"'Star Wars' is going to be a big brand again," Kehoe said. Yet what's driving the business is strength across all age groups and categories, she said.

Wal-Mart also said it will launch its holiday layaway program this Friday. There is no fee for customers to open one of these accounts, though they are required to put down the greater of 10 percent or $10 for their merchandise. Items that cost $10 or more qualify for layaway, and the total basket much reach $50 in value. Shoppers have until Dec. 12 to pay off their balance.