Shortage of in-demand Fingerlings fuels shopping frenzy, flood of fakes
SEATTLE (KOMO) - Some of the hottest toys this holiday season are interactive baby animals called Fingerlings. In fact, they're so hot, the manufacturer can't keep up with demand.
They're called Fingerlings because the battery-operated toys hold onto children's fingers and respond to what kids do.
They have a lot of adults jumping through hoops, and that's the perfect formula for fakes to flood the market.
The interactive finger pets were a surprise hit almost as soon as they were launched by manufacturer WowWee in August.
The suggested retail price is $14.99 but because of the high demand, profiteers are buying them up and reselling them online for as much as $70 a pop.
"I started looking for them. It's like, everybody is wanting these," said Melinda Bray.
Bray and her niece Lorrie Roe need at least seven Fingerlings for the seven 6-year-olds in their extended family.
Between late September and mid-November, they managed to find five in different stores. On the day she met with KOMO News, Roe got an alert and made a dash to buy a sixth that had just arrived at her local Walmart. It was a return.
"They didn't know what they had," Roe said. "It's almost gold right now during Christmastime. They didn't know what they had in hand."
Fingerlings' availability is hit and miss. When KOMO stopped at a local Target store, it had just gotten in two, more expensive Fingerlings Play Sets that sell for $24.99. But the $14.99 individual Fingerlings everybody's after were all gone.
KOMO found them equally scarce searching online. They were "Not Available," "Out of Stock" or "Sold Out."
But short supply is only one concern. The popularity is fueling Fingerlings fakes.
Court documents confirm WowWee recently secured a temporary restraining order, accusing 165 sellers of selling counterfeit Fingerlings.
In a news release issued earlier this month, WowWee CEO Richard Yanofsky said the company will continue to "aggressively pursue counterfeiters."
But Bray and Roe didn't know about that problem when they ordered more Fingerlings through a third-party Marketplace seller on walmart.com.
Roe says the seller kept giving her different delivery dates.
"It was supposed to be received on Oct. 23. Oct. 23 came around, nothing came," said Roe, adding that she eventually got a delivery date in March but could not get the seller to cancel or refund her account.
The Fingerlings that Bray ordered on Oct. 7 arrived Nov. 14. But they're not Fingerlings.
"The brand is Fun Monkey," said Bray. "This is not what I ordered! It's not what was advertised in the ad."
The packaging and labeling are very similar to those of authentic Fingerlings but they are not true Fingerlings by WowWee, as her order confirmation states.
"They're changing just a few little things to make it seem the same as the original," said Bray.
So, how do you increase your odds of getting the real thing?
Go to the WowWee website and link to the authorized Fingerlings retailers.
Whenever possible, sign up for email alerts that let you know when Fingerlings are in stock. Walmart.com has an alert sign-up option at checkout, and Roe says she's had good luck with two in-stock alert sites, Zoolert and BrickSeek.
Also, check stores in person regularly to see if more supply has come in.
And if you're really determined, contact your local retailer and find out when shipments are delivered, then be at the store when more Fingerlings arrive.
Walmart says it's looking into Bray's case.
"We take these issues very seriously and are looking into the matter. We have zero tolerance for this and will take appropriate action for any seller that violates our terms of service, including termination of Marketplace sellers who violate our terms of service. Customers who have concerns with the Fingerling product they’ve received from an online order can visit the walmart.com help center."
Walmart says it's also contacting consumers who have experienced delivery delays or authenticity issues and is issuing refunds.
Keep in mind, Walmart is one of the six authorized Fingerlings retailers on the WowWee website and some of those retailers link to other reputable retailers.
The key to protecting your purchase is to make sure the Fingerlings you order are both sold and shipped by that retailer.
Based on the look-alike products Bray received, WowWee provided the following updated statement to KOMO news by email:
"Under our Zero Tolerance Policy, WowWee is aggressively pursuing counterfeiters that are manufacturing and/or selling counterfeit products.
As we continue to take steps to protect our consumers, we also encourage them to be diligent when purchasing Fingerlings and look for telltale signs of counterfeits - such as spelling errors on the packaging, the improper use of the Fingerlings brand name (e.g. Happy Monkey, Fun Monkey, Finger Monkey, Baby Monkey, etc.), prices that are unusually low, and other details that seem suspicious, such as products with plastic hair or low-quality packaging and products.
We know Fingerlings is a high-demand toy, and we’re working very closely with our retail partners to ensure stores are stocked this holiday season. We recommend consumers purchase their Fingerlings from WowWee's authorized retailers, which can be found here."
One more caveat -- part of the Fingerlings shortage is due to profiteers who buy up all the stock they can find, then resell them online at inflated prices.
So remember, the suggested retail price for authentic Fingerlings is $14.99.