Hatchimals are a rare breed - except in Korea

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Hatchimals are a rare breed - except in Korea

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Hatchimals on sale at Shinsegae Department Store in Myeong-dong, central Seoul. It’s almost impossible to find one in the United States, Europe and other countries. The toy can be found on Gmarket for 718,000 won (600d ollar), but at Shinsegae, they go for just 100,000 won. [MONICA WILLIAMS]

Hatchimals, the “it” toy of the season that has caused a frenzy in many parts of the world, is sold out in Europe, the Americas and parts of Asia, but desperate parents can still find it for Junior if they look a little - in Seoul.

Like the Cabbage Patch dolls, Turning Mecards and Tickle-Me-Elmos before them, Hatchimals have temporarily won the hearts of parents who are begging, borrowing and pleading to snatch one up in time for this weekend’s gift-giving holidays.

They might be better off asking friends to get one in Korea, where there’s a supply of the toy.

A Hatchimal is a colorful, wide-eyed and interactive furry “animal” that comes inside a speckled plastic egg (think Furby meets Tamagotchi). The adoptive parent must play with the egg until the bird “hatches” - about 20 to 30 minutes - and then raise it to walk and talk.

Spin Master, the Canadian manufacturer of Etch A Sketch and Build-a-Bear products, has been flying Hatchimals to the United States from its Asian factories - rather than shipping them - to meet demand. But demand has exceeded supply, as the toy is simultaneously sought-after and scarce.

Hatchimals were initially hatched in October for $50 to $60 in the States but had little staying power on store shelves. Intense demand sparked Facebook groups like Hatchimal Addicts and the Hatchimal Support Group for moms desperate for help. It also spurred a brisk third-party market. In fact, on the Amazon Marketplace of third-party sellers, Hatchimals run about $200, four times as much as the retailers’ suggested price.

On Spin Master’s November earnings call, Ronnen Harary, co-chief executive officer, said demand had far exceeded expectations. “In fact, in the week of Oct. 9, the first, second and fourth best-selling toys in the United States were Hatchimal products.”

But in Seoul this weekend, while crowds of kids played with toys at the Shinsegae Department Store in Myeong-dong, central Seoul, a shelf of eight Hatchimals priced at 100,000 won ($85) remained untouched. The situation was similar at the retailer’s branch in Banpo-dong, southern Seoul. Employees at the Alpha stationery store in Namdaemun said they had never heard of it, but a shelf full were later spotted for 80,000 won each.

In a Hatchimal Addicts Facebook group, one Louisiana mom got creative to land a furry fellow. In a post, she offered to swap a bunch of Kinder Joy, the tiny toy-filled chocolate eggs, for a Hatchimal. The candy is banned in the United States.

Although the Italian confection is popular in Korea and other parts of the world, it’s been illegal in the U.S. since its launch in 2001 for safety regulations. In fact, Americans caught smuggling them can be fined $2,500 per egg. Kinder Joy is just a 240-gram plastic egg filled with cocoa, milk cream and a tiny toy. It’s many times smaller than a Hatchimal, but a box was good enough for a trade.

Savvy shoppers can find Hatchimals in Seoul stores, but that hasn’t stopped sellers on Gmarket, Korea’s leading online retailer, from trying to cash in on the craze. On Wednesday, prices for the toy started at 108,000 won and ran as high as 718,000 won.

Maria Lee, owner of Ask Adjumma, a virtual concierge service in Korea, said she’s received “tons” of requests to find Hatchimals in the run-up to the holidays. At the height of the craze, Lee charged $109 for the toy, which included delivery in Korea and fees. Today, she’s charging $70 to $80. Although she has a 7-year-old and 9-year-old, she isn’t rushing to let them know about Hatchimals, as four Furbys in her home are left “talking to each other.”

Still, she doesn’t besmirch any parent who wants to line up at 5 a.m. at Walmart or spend hours online tracking down a plastic egg.

“There are some lucky kids out there.”


BY MONICA WILLIAMS [monica.williams@joongang.co.kr]

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