While it's been a while since we had a toy craze on the level of Furby or Tickle-Me-Elmo, there are certainly some highly in-demand toys this holiday season. And as we've noted before, you don't want to wait until the last minute to shop for these hot toys, as they tend to sell out. The last thing you want is to spend Christmas Eve driving around to far-flung toy stores in search of that perfect toy.
With that in mind, (and with just two weeks left until Christmas,) we set out to identify the toys you should buy before it's too late. Here are eight that retailers and industry watchers say are the most popular this holiday season.
1. Doc McStuffins Time for Your Check Up Doll
A Toys R Us spokesperson tells us this doll is a "runaway hit" this holiday season. And price-tracking site FreePriceAlerts.com informs us that this is its hottest toy right now, based on product views and purchases over the last week.
Based on the Disney show of the same name, the Doc McStuffins doll comes with a stethoscope and other diagnostic tools that can be used to give Lambie (a tiny lamb, which is included) a check-up. Using the stethoscope allows you to hear Lambie's heartbeat, and for some reason, Lambie giggles when the good doctor takes her temperature. It's intended for ages 3-5, and sells for $34.99.
It's currently unavailable on ToysRUs.com, though, and has limited availability in stores. If you're really desperate, it can be had at a huge markup from various Amazon sellers.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Secret Sewer Lair
Ninja Turtles are back on TV and their toys are hot again: Toys R Us reports that this is another of their most popular items. A towering playset that my younger self would have coveted, the Secret Sewer Lair stands 42 inches tall and has a zip line, a sewer cover that flips down to lower levels, a tire swing, and what appears to be some sort of computer interface, presumably intended for keeping tabs on Shredder and the Foot Clan.
Toys R Us has it marked down from $139.99 to $109.99, but it's sold out online, and in-store availability is limited.
3. LeapFrog LeapPad2
Walmart (WMT) tells us that the latest LeapPad is among its most popular items on layaway this season, while Kmart (SHLD) also lists it as one of its top sellers.
Billed as a "learning tablet," the LeapPad has front- and rear-facing cameras, a 5-inch screen, a stylus and five preloaded apps. You can also purchase additional apps and cartridges. It retails for $99 at Walmart, where it's in-stock and can be shipped free to your home or local store. Intended for kids ages 3 to 9, it takes four AAA batteries, which aren't included.
Yes, that Furby. The furry robot from Hasbro might not be the must-have toy that it was when it was first released back in 1998, but it's back for 2012 and apparently quite popular: Both Walmart and Kmart list it among their best-selling toys of the season.
The updated Furby is still at its best when paired with another Furby, but now it has new ways to play: Download the free iOS app to "feed" your Furby and to translate its "Furbish" language to English.
The Furby is available at Walmart for $54, and can be shipped to home or your local store for free.
5. WWE Brawlin' Buddies
Before the season began, toy industry tracker Time to Play released its predictions of the most popular toys of the holidays. Included on that list was the WWE Brawlin' Buddies line of stuffed wrestling toys. And sure enough, Kmart tells us the Brawlin' Buddies -- essentially, small pillows shaped like pro wrestlers -- are among its four top sellers.
Kids ages 3 and older can body-slam and toss around the tiny wrestlers, and snuggle up to them at the end of the match if they're so inclined. They come in the likenesses of various WWE wrestlers, including John Cena and Rey Mysterio, and sell for $29.99 each. Some characters may be unavailable online, so you may have to check a few local stores to find your kid's favorite wrestler.
Scooters are still riding a wave of popularity. Walmart identifies them as a hot product on layaway, singling out the Razor Pocket Mod Electric Scooter in particular. That powered scooter retails for $189 at Walmart.com (marked down from $249) and is intended for riders ages 12 to 18 -- though you probably shouldn't get a 17-year-old boy a tiny pink or lavender scooter. (They do come in basic black.) They are currently sold out online, but some are still available in stores.
Meanwhile, Toys R Us says one of its top sellers is the YFliker, an unpowered, three-wheeled scooter that retails for between $80 and $170 depending on which model you opt for.
7. Wii U
Wii U is the follow-up to Nintendo's hit Wii console, which stormed onto the scene six years ago and sold out at toy stores across the country. The new console finally brings HD gaming to Nintendo fans, and its big innovation is an oversized, touch-screen remote that doubles as a portable gaming device. It starts at $300, though your best bet is the deluxe edition at $350.
While the Wii U sold 400,000 units in its first week of availability, Microsoft's Xbox 360 -- which has been out for seven years -- sold 750,000 units in the same period, fueled by its lower price, doorbuster deals, and a constant flow of new games. But don't let the numbers fool you into thinking the Wii U isn't hot -- in fact, they are selling as fast as Nintendo can make them and ship them. So presumably, its sales numbers would have been higher if more were available.
If your kid still doesn't have the Xbox 360, it's possible he or she may prefer it to the Wii U (a couple of popular new games for the system, "Halo 4" and "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2," were just released last month). But if you're looking for the latest in console tech, the Wii U is the only new kid on the block right now.
8. Monster High
When Time to Play predicted the season's most popular toys, a few offerings from the Monster High line of horror-inspired dolls made the list. And sure enough, the dolls seem to be awfully popular this season: FreePriceAlerts tells us that a two-pack gift set consisting of the Werecat Sisters (that's Melowdy and Purrsephone, for those unfamiliar) is one of its five most popular toys this week.
The dolls vary in price -- the Werecat Sister pack is $54 at Amazon (AMZN), while Frankie Stein sells for $20 at Walmart. They are intended for ages 6 and up.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.