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Toy seller takes to the Web

Celebrates its official Web launch, eToys is hoping to snare a portion of the country's $22 billion toy market by selling toys, educational software, and children's books.

Quick: what's the next big thing that's going to hit the Net? Is it Web TVs? Cable modems? Avatars?

Or is it something a little lower tech, like toys? That's what eToys, which celebrates its official launch today, is banking on.

The company is hoping to snare a portion of the country's $22 billion toy market by selling toys, educational software, and children's books through its Web site.

"We're incredibly excited about it," said eToys vice president of marketing Phil Polishook. "We honestly think we're going to change the way people buy toys."

However, eToys is hardly a pioneer in the online toy vending space. Numerous online toy vendors, including WebMagic subsidiary Toys.com, have already opened their electronic doors to shoppers.

Polishook said his company would distinguish itself by offering a combination of popular toys from major manufacturers and specialty toys such as wooden trains from Brio. "You can't find those specialty items at Toys 'R' Us," said Polishook.

To get the word out about its new site, eToys has signed marketing and advertising agreements with companies including America Online, WebTV, Yahoo, and ParenthoodWeb. As any parent or toy store knows, toys are not all fun and games. Frequently, they become lightning rods for controversial social issues, such as violence and representations of women.

"We're not going to carry superviolent toys," said Polishook. "But we don't want to be 'holier-than-thou.' A lot of people are critical of Barbie, but she's a great toy. She's a fun toy for kids."

The greatest beneficiaries of eToys' service, according to Polishook, will be toyed-out parents.

"Parents have to go to the toy store all the time," he said. "They have to buy gifts for their kids or for their kids' friends' birthdays. It's a pain in the neck for them. Parents are looking for a better way to buy toys and we're going to provide it for them."

And what will it mean for kids? "For kids, hopefully it will mean that they get more toys," added Polishook.