Houston - It might seem early to talk about toy shopping for the holidays, but experts say start now because there is a toy shortage and popular toys will be harder to find than usual.
After a year of testing toys, reviewers at The Toy Insider just unveiled their 16th annual Holiday Gift Guide.
The Toy Insider calls their HOT 20 the most wished-for toys this year. You'll notice a cooking theme in several, such as the Blues Clues and You! Cook-Along Play Kitchen Set, the Magic Mixies Magic Cauldron, and the Choppin' Fun Learning Pot.
"It’s basically a toy instapot for kids. It teaches them lots of basics and lots of interactions and role play," said Marissa Silva, editor in chief of The Toy Insider.
She says toys on their STEM 10 list make it fun to learn science, technology, engineering, and math such as the National Geographic 100-Piece Makeway Magnetic Marble Run and HEXMODS Pro Series Elite Raceway.
"Kids are building this car from scratch and customizing the whole entire thing. And I feel like teens and tweens are hard to buy for, so it’s the perfect cool hands-on gift," said Silva.
And if you're watching your wallet, they list 12 Under $20, like Koosh Mondo and My Squishy Little Dumplings.
"These guys are so cute, they look like dumping heads. You squeeze their cheeks and their bodies pop out, and they light up and tell you how they’re feeling," said Silva.
But they say don't wait for Black Friday deals because shipping delays could leave short supplies.
"Typically we see hot toys hitting shelves in July. We’re seeing them hit stores right now and in October. So once those toys sell out, it may be hard for them to get back in stock in November and December," Silva explained.
And that is already driving up prices.
"We’re seeing action figures and they’re only going up $2 or $3. But when it comes to heavy, block wooden dollhouses, you could end up paying 10% more for toys," she said.
If you're having trouble finding popular toys, she recommends checking local stores, saying they often have stock that's different than what's listed online. And she suggests checking small, independent toy stores.
"A tip is shop small for toys. Check out your local neighborhood toy store. Sometimes they have the hottest toys of the year like Sqwishmallows, and all those Fidget toys kids are seeing on TikTok," said Silva.
Online stock trackers, such as NowInStock.net, StockInformer.com, ZooLert.com, and BrickSeek.com, track the stock of major retailers, such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Best Buy. You enter the item you're searching for, and they'll alert you when and where it's in stock.
Some major online retailers, such as Walmart, Target, and Amazon, will also let you sign up for stock alerts on some items, though usually not the most popular toys.
You can perform a Google search for a toy and it will show you several retailers that sell it and their price. Click into those listings to see if it's currently in stock.