Hatchimals are the hottest toys of 2016. Here's how to find one.

Be prepared to pay more (sometimes a lot more) than retail price, and watch out for scams. Otherwise, be prepared to wait for a Hatchimal until January. 

Gunnar Rathbun/AP Images for Walmart/File
Kelly Ingram reacts while receiving a Hatchimal, a top toy of the season, at Walmart’s Black Friday event in Bentonville, Ark.

When I first heard about Hatchimals back in September, I knew immediately, instinctively, that they would be A Very Big Deal. If my inner 6 year old was freaking out, then I was pretty sure that actual kids would lose their minds over them as well.

I was one of the lucky ones. Because I knew about them early and just had a feeling, I was able to order a pair on launch day, confident that they would cement my status forever as World's Best Aunt.

Then I couldn't shut up about them. People who knew me asked what would be hot and "Hatchimals" was what tumbled from my mouth every time. By the time I finished explaining what they were to my friends, family, my chiropractor, they were on their phones placing orders.  After explaining Hatchimals to a British journalist who'd never heard of them, I hung up the phone and told a co-worker, "I may have just accidentally introduced the UK to Hatchimals." It's that bad.

They're sold out, of course. If you're reading this, you've probably already figured that out and are desperate to find one at a reasonable price in time for Christmas. I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry.

The Latest Hatchimals Update from Spin Master

I'm not going to pull the wool over anyone's eyes here. If you haven't found yours in stores by now, chances are slim that you'll pay anything close to MSRP. While Spin Master knew Hatchimals would be popular, demand has completely overwhelmed their supply. They've posted this statement about it on the official Hatchimals website:

"The consumer response to Hatchimals has been extraordinary, exceeding all expectations. Some of our first shipments have already sold out. While additional product will hit retail shelves in November, we anticipate this inventory will also sell out quickly. We have increased production and a whole new batch of Hatchimals will be ready to hatch in early 2017. This is a special season and we don’t want anyone to be disappointed, nor do we support inflated prices from non-authorized resellers. We are working on creative solutions to help kids and their parents withstand the wait. In the interim, some retailers are developing pre-sale and/or rain-check programs for redemption in January. We will continue to update with program details as they become available."

Got that? Your next shot at buying a Penguala, Draggle, Burtle, Owlicorn, or Bearakeet in a store for $59.99 or less will be sometime in 2017. That doesn't help you with Christmas morning, of course.

Where to Find Hatchimals by Christmas

If you absolutely can't wait until after New Years, third party sellers are the way to go. You'll need to be prepared to shell out at least $100 and up to $400 just for one. You also need to be aware that there are plenty of scammers jumping on Hatchimals popularity who are counting on your desperation. Seriously, as professional deal hunters we strongly recommend sticking an official Hatchimals ownership certificate in your kids' stockings as an IOU.

But if the exorbitant markup and scam risk still aren't enough of a deterrent, here's a few tips for buying from third parties via Craigslist, Amazon, and Walmart. The bottom line for all three of these is to read the fine print, and if something feels even the slightest bit fishy, walk away.

The prices on Craigslist are often lower than you'll see from other online sellers, so it's worth checking. We found listings from 35 sellers in or near Chicago as of 11/30, with prices ranging from $110 to $230 to "make an offer." 

If you're buying a Hatchimal on Craigslist, though, we strongly recommend insisting upon an in-person transaction. This gives you the chance to inspect the merchandise before handing over your cash and is basically the only way to guarantee you won't be scammed.

Amazon's Third-Party Sellers
Amazon's third party selling platform is much more broadly known than Walmart. Here, finding Hatchimals requires a little more digging than you'd expect. It seems like everyone must be using it as a keyword in their listings at the moment judging by the number of clearly-not-even-distantly-related-to-Hatchimals toys that turn up in what should be a very simple, straightforward search. (Seriously, Amazon, this is something you should work on fixing.)

As with all major retailers right now, Amazon's only stock comes courtesy of third party sellers. We found them as low as $183 and as high as $351, but best bets are those that are fulfilled by Amazon. 

Many of the sellers are labeled "Fulfillment by Amazon." That means that although you're buying it from a third party, Amazon is still responsible for the packing, shipping and customer service. That adds some welcome peace of mind that I think is worth a few extra dollars.

There's also Amazon's A-to-Z Guarantee, noted at the top of the page, which guarantees purchases from third-party sellers and provides some clear recourse if a transaction goes bad.

Walmart Marketplace
If you searched Walmart for Hatchimals and were confused to see them priced at $199 or higher, you're not alone. Walmart Marketplace allows vetted third party vendors to sell their goods on Walmart.com. When buying from Walmart, always look for "Sold & Shipped By" just under the price.

A blue/purple Draggle is being sold on Walmart.com for $299.99 by third party seller B&B Bargain Buys Corp. You've probably never heard of them. But if you're willing to cough up $300 for this cute little guy, you'll want to click on that seller's name for more information including their seller ratings and return policies.

The third party in our example has no ratings and an "all sales final" policy for Hatchimals. Both of those points trigger some alarms for me as a buyer. Although we have no experience with this particular seller, and Walmart's info page for Marketplace sellers notes that "Our sellers are selected based on reputation, sales projections and alignment with Walmart's values," a $300 price tag and no returns allowed isn't exactly the kind of online shopping experience that inspires confidence. Stick to Amazon if you can, where buyer protections are well-defined and prices are lower.

What about Hatchimal backorders and rain checks?

We haven't seen any reputable sellers offering backorders, and at least one retailer was canceling them en masse. If you see a retailer offering backorders and you've never heard of them before, it may be a scam.

Interactive Toys that may be good Hatchimal alternatives

Now let's say that you're an entirely sane human being who thinks that 333%+ markup on a $60 toy is a dealbreaker, and thus you're on the hunt for some cool alternatives. We've got a few ideas for you.

Furby Connect
Price: $69.99 (was $99.99)
Where:  Kohl's

While they may not be the hot new thing, Furby has nailed the interactive toy niche for several years now. Last year's hot item, Furbacca, is just $55.99 through 11/30 with code SNOWY20. If that coupon is expired, check our Kohl's coupons page to find a discount that works.

Zoomer Hedgiez
Price: $31.99 (was $39.99)
Where: Toys R Us

Interactive hedgehogs. I repeat, interactive hedgehogs. This is not a drill. Hedgiez roll when you pet their heads, perform headstands, wiggle, whistle, blow kisses, and giggle when you tickle them. HEDGEHOGS.

FurReal Friends Get Up and Go Go My Walkin' Pup
Price: $29.99 
Where: Toys R Us

Go Go was one of the most popular interactive pets of 2015. This plush electronic puppy walks, wags her tail, sits, tilts her head, and barks when you talk to her.

Joy For All Companion Cats and Dogs
Price: $79.99 (cat) or $87.44 (dog)
Where: Amazon

These well-reviewed interactive pets are possibly the next best thing to real live kitten or puppy. VibraPurr technology keeps the popular orange tabby purring, while Bark Back tech lets the adorable golden retriever pup respond to sounds. Their coats are designed to mimic real fur, and they even have a simulated heartbeat.

Fuzzy Flyers Coco Interactive Toy
Price: $24.99
Where: Amazon

Coco is the kind of plush toy that's designed to take some abuse. Throw him and he tells you that you made a great catch. Roll him across the floor for a "bark attack" and he'll bark nonstop until someone picks him up. Right. So, have fun with the bark attacks, parents!

Wonder Workshop Dash Robot
Price: $119.99 (was $149.99)
Where: Amazon

Dash is a bit more expensive than a list-price Hatchimal, sure, but it also goes well beyond merely being a pet robot to teach kids coding skills. Recommended for ages 8+, you can program Dash with your Android or iOS device to move, dance, light up, make sounds, navigate obstacles, and respond to voices using the Wonder and Blockly apps.

This article first appeared in Brad's Deals.

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