With the holiday shopping season in full swing, the "gray" toy market is once again booming at online auctions, a new study indicates.
Not only are customers turning to auction sites such as those hosted by eBay and Yahoo for the hard-to-find PlayStation 2, but they are bidding on collectible Beanie Babies and a holiday-themed Barbie doll. All three toys topped the list of most popular toy auctions put together by Boston-based Strong Numbers, which monitors auction listings and sales.
"The hard-to-find products are available on auction," said Geoffrey Hyatt, chief executive of Strong Numbers. "They are higher than retail, but auctions really have created market efficiency. If someone wants it more, now there's a way to transfer the object."
Last year, a gray market started to emerge on online auction sites, with sellers garnering up to three times the retail price for hot-selling toys. In a gray market, consumers buy goods at retail and then jack up the prices for a profit.
The gray market took off with a vengeance this fall, when the PlayStation 2 sold out in retail stores soon after being released in limited quantities in the United States.
But PlayStation 2 auctions were the subject of numerous fraudulent bids that boosted prices to more than $1,000 in some cases. The gaming device normally retails for about $299.
The hard-to-find game console was the most popular toy sold via online auctions last month, with about 14,524 units sold, according Strong Numbers. The fair market value of the PlayStation 2 was $561.
Strong Numbers calculates the fair market value by looking at the trends of online sales through statistical means.
Although a memory card for the PlayStation 2 also ranked in the top 25 among toys sold through auctions, the rest of the list was dominated by traditional favorites such as Barbie and Beanie Babies. Roxie the Reindeer Beanie Baby, for instance, ranked second, with 4,197 units sold in November. The Holiday Barbie ranked third, with 3,108 units sold.
The fair market value of the reindeer Beanie Baby was $14, while the market value of the Barbie doll was $59, Strong Numbers said.
"Even though it doesn't get talked about very much, Barbie is still Barbie," Hart said. "The Beanie Baby trend is far from being over. The silent majority is still alive."