By Phil Wahba
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tablet computers, turtles and a new take on a furry old-timer are the hot toys retailers and manufacturers hope will spark a rebound from a dismal 2011 holiday season, according to a closely watched "Most Wanted" list released on Friday.
The industry is not just counting on best-selling toys to generate joy at the cash register. Major retailers are pushing more attractive layaway plans to lure shoppers into stores before they go elsewhere this holiday season.
Competition will be stiff over layaway: who's the earliest, with no fee or just a small fee.
"This year (there) is going to be more action early, and it's the battle of the layaway programs," said Jim Silver, editor in chief of TimetoPlay.com, which released its "Most Wanted List" of toys on Friday.
"Everybody is being super aggressive, announcing the hot items, saying 'come get it on layaway.'"
Walmart U.S., Wal-Mart's largest unit, brought layaway back a month early this year - giving shoppers who live paycheck-to-paycheck more time to pay for holiday gifts.
Toys R Us Inc offered layaway with no upfront fee, and soon after, Walmart cut its upfront fee to $5 from $15. The $5 fee will be returned in the form of a Walmart gift card if all payments are completed on time - as the $15 fee would have been.
Last year, Wal-Mart Stores Inc used the layaway strategy successfully to boost sales, taking customers away from the likes of Toys R Us.
Among this year's hot toys is LeapFrog Enterprises Inc's $99.99 LeapPad 2 Explorer tablet, an update on last year's massive holiday hit.
The tablet made Time to Play's Holiday 2012 Most Wanted List, which is a hot read for toy industry executives. It was also featured on The Toy Insider, a holiday gift guide from a publisher that serves the toy and licensing industries, as well as gift lists from Walmart, Toys R Us and Sears Holdings Corp's Kmart.
Time to Play's list includes returning old classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures; a princess wedding castle playset for Hasbro Inc's My Little Pony; Lego Friends; and an update of Hasbro's furry 1990s toy, Furby.
Newer characters like Just Play's Doc McStuffins could be a hit. The doll based on the Disney Junior show has landed on lists from Time to Play, Toys R Us and Toy Insider.
"The consumer looks for value," Time to Play's Silver said. "Parents look for things that a child will play with over and over."
Other items on the list include Thomas & Friends's Steam and Speed remote control by Mattel unit Fisher-Price, and Winx Club Everyday Concert Collections by Jakks Pacific Inc.
Hasbro is looking for a better holiday season this year than the one last year, when demand weakened after Thanksgiving.
Larger rival Mattel saw international sales at holiday time hurt by a stronger dollar.
At stores, shoppers will have options other than layaway.
Toys R Us has introduced a program this year that lets shoppers reserve any 50 toys on a list it will draw up by making a 20 percent down payment in person at its stores by October 31.
Dollar General Corp said Thursday it is offering a 10 percent discount on purchases of at least $75 from its toy selection, which includes items by Mattel, Hasbro and Walt Disney Co.
(Reporting by Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Brad Dorfman and Jeffrey Benkoe)
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