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Craig Ruttle, file, Associated Press
In this Feb. 15, 2010 file photo, Dance Star Mickey, an interactive and dancing plush doll is displayed after it was introduced by Fisher-Price during Toy Fair 2010, in New York.

NEW YORK — Parents may have noticed there's no new version of Tickle Me Elmo this year, but that doesn't mean popular dolls are lacking this holiday season. In fact, they're among the scarcest toys on store shelves.

Mattel Inc.'s $24.99 Monster High dolls — the poseable offspring of famous vampires, werewolves and more — are hard to find, analysts say.

Other popular dolls include MGA Entertainment's $29.99 Lalaloopsy with button eyes and brightly colored hair; the $49.99 Disney Princess dolls, and Fisher-Price's Dance Star Mickey, a $74.99 Mickey Mouse that dances and sings.

Most of these dolls sold out during the busy Thanksgiving Day weekend a note to investors, BMO Capital Markets analyst Gerrick Johnson said, despite the fact that most of them weren't on sale.

"The increase in sell-outs should be considered a good sign for overall toy demand," Johnson said.

One hard-to-find doll comes with controversy this year: Mattel's $49.99 Barbie Video Girl, garnered attention from the FBI because they were worried it could be misused for child pornography (no incidents have been reported).

But that hasn't dampened demand, said toy analyst Jim Silver.

"It's basically a sold-out item," he said.

— AP Retail Writer Mae Anderson

Online retailers rally behind Free Shipping Day

You survived the crowds on the day after Thanksgiving and successfully clicked your way through Cyber Monday, so what's next? Free Shipping Day.

Next Friday, shoppers will see more than 1,00 retailers providing some type of free shipping offer that should enable online gift orders to arrive by Christmas Eve if sent within the continental U.S.

The one-day event gives procrastinators and those who hate shopping at busy stores more incentive to buy that day. Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving Day, stands as the busiest online shopping day of the holiday season thus far, pulling in a record $1.03 billion in sales and making it the biggest one-day online shopping day ever.

But online retailers are bracing for the busiest days of the holiday season yet to come.

In 2009 the biggest online shopping day was Dec. 15, with $913 million in sales, according to research firm comScore Inc. The firm's data showed that last year's online holiday sales climbed steadily from early November up to the week before Christmas, indicating that shoppers were willing to wait for deals and take advantage of promotions like free shipping.

Among the retailers expected to participate in 2010's Free Shipping Day are Macy's Inc., Barnes & Noble Inc., JoS. A. Bank Clothiers Inc., J.C. Penney Co. and Nike Inc.

Free Shipping Day, which is going on its third year, had more than 750 businesses take part in 2009. More details can be found online at www.freeshippingday.com .

— AP Retail Writer Michelle Chapman

Home Depot's video gift card makes the impersonal more personal

Gift cards are great catch-all presents but they have an impersonal touch. Home Depot has come up with a way to fix that with video gift cards.

First launched this year ahead of Father's Day, Home Depot's cards were similar to regular gift cards, except they contained a code users could type into a Web site, which would bring up a video greeting from the card giver up to 30 seconds long.

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For the holidays, Home Depot has made video gift cards even simpler. Recipients now get an e-mail with an embedded video from a friend or loved on they can click to view.

"The response has been very good so far," said Michael Homiak, director of gift cards at Home Depot, who said Home Depot is the only retailer he is aware of that offers the service. "Awareness continues to grow as we get closer to the holiday."

Consumers who want to send a video gift card can log onto homedepot.com and either upload a prerecorded video or record one on the site using a webcam.

— AP Retail Writer Mae Anderson