By JOSEPH PISANI and ANNE D'INNOCENZIO AP Retail Writers
NEW YORK (AP) — The pandemic is turning this into a holiday shopping season like no other.
Toy companies are targeting stuck-at-home grown-ups with latte-smelling Play-Doh and Legos that turn into Warhols. Those who added a puppy to their family during the pandemic will see tons of gift options for their new furry friend. And with more people shopping online, stores are doing double duty as shipping centers to try to get gifts to doorsteps as fast as possible.
Here's what to expect:
TOYS FOR ADULTS
Kids aren't the only ones who need some fun. Toy companies are targeting bored adults stuck at home during the pandemic. Need something to fidget during your next Zoom meeting? Hasbro has new moldable Play-Doh varieties that smell like stuff grown-ups would recognize: lattes, fresh cut grass and smoked meats.
Lego, meanwhile, wants adults to put on their headphones and "forget about the rest of the world" while turning the plastic pieces in their new kits into hangable art, like Andy Warhol's famous Marilyn Monroe portraits.
Marissa DiBartolo, editor in chief of toy review site The Toy Insider, says she's seen more coloring books and challenging puzzles being designed with adults in mind.
FROM YOUTUBE TO THE TOY STORE
The canines on "Paw Patrol" better watch their tails. YouTube stars with millions of viewers are heading to the toy aisle, a place where TV cartoon characters used to rule.
It's all because kids are spending so much time watching YouTube instead of cable TV, says DiBartolo. That's made stars of the video-streaming site just as recognizable as those on Nickelodeon.
Figurines of Blippi, a man who wears orange suspenders and hosts educational kid videos on YouTube, are being sold at Target and Amazon. At Walmart, toys featuring Ryan Kaji, a kid who reviews toys on his Ryan's World YouTube channel, have been hot sellers. Toy company VTech is playing into the trend in another way, selling a KidiZoom Creator camera that comes with a green screen so kids can add special effects and pretend to be YouTube influencers themselves.
And if you need another sign of just how big YouTube stars have become, a 42-foot-tall (13-meter-tall) balloon based on Kaji from Ryan's World will appear in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade this year, floating next to TV icons like SpongeBob and, yes, Chase from "Paw Patrol."
STORES AS SHIPPING HUBS
Retailers including Walmart and Best Buy that were already using their locations as hubs to ship e-commerce orders are now coming up with new strategies to get even faster. The moves come as they face a holiday crunch expected to tax shipping networks and likely result in delivery delays.
Walmart this week launched a special program for the holidays. It has some of its online orders being fulfilled directly from stores using delivery services like Postmates and DoorDash instead of carriers like FedEx or UPS. The aim is to ensure customers will be able to get their orders quickly, even on the same day.
Meanwhile, Best Buy says that 340 of its stores are being specially designated to handle a higher volume of online orders, though all its stores ship e-commerce packages. Its goal: to have the 340 stores ship more than 70% of its ship-from-store units during the holiday quarter.
And then there are many small-to-medium sized businesses increasingly turning to operators of micro-warehouses — mini-shipping hubs that are located in urban areas — to help pack and delivery goods. Ben Jones is the CEO and founder of Ohi, which operates five micro-warehouses for various brands like sparkling tonic Olipop, or provides software for third parties at 115 locations for e-commerce fulfillment across the U.S. He says he's seen more brands using his software because many aren't able to guarantee delivery by Christmas via standard shipping if items are ordered after the first week of December.
GIFTS FOR THE POOCH
More people adopted puppies and kittens during the pandemic, and stores are pouncing to cash in. Petco is selling matching pajamas for dogs and their humans with snow flakes and Christmas trees. And Chewy, the online pet store, is getting more personal, inscribing pets names into bandanas, bowls or beds.
Consulting firm Deloitte expects half of shoppers to spend some of their money on pet treats and other supplies this holiday season.
FORGET ABOUT IMPULSE SHOPPING
It's not just frenzied crowds that will be absent this holiday season. So will impulse shopping — the practice of throwing in extra items like toys or bath balms as shoppers go in and out of the aisles.
Typically, 25% of holiday shopping is based on impulse, according to Marshal Cohen, chief industry advisor at NPD Group, a market research firm. This year, Cohen said he expects that figure to drop to about 10% as shoppers dramatically shift their buying online to avoid physical stores. And when they do go to stores, customers will be buying with a purpose, picking up things they need as they try to minimize exposure to COVID-19
"Impulse shopping is the icing on the cake," Cohen said. "It is the difference between a successful profitable holiday and a ho hum holiday." ___
This story has been updated to correct that Petco is offering matching pajamas for owners and dogs, not matching sweaters.