SEATTLE -- Just eight days before Christmas, customers shopping for toys on the joint Toys 'R ' Us-Amazon.com Web site are finding that hundreds of toys pictured on the site are out of stock or discontinued.
The shortages on Tuesday were afflicting everything from the LEGO Life on Mars: Mars Solar Explorer to the Fairy Princess Gown Set by Creative Designs.
Spokespersons for Toys 'R' Us, and for Amazon.com, which administers the Web site, warehousing and shipping for Toys ''R'' Us, said that shortages may be temporary as more inventory comes in. They also said they don't expect the problem will discourage online shoppers.
''The great thing about Toys 'R' Us.com is if something is out of stock, it always gives you a recommendation for other items,'' said Toys 'R' Us spokesperson Susan McLaughlin.
But for some customers, it's been a disappointment with the days ticking down. Patrice Dicasparro, a Bellevue resident, said her daughter was looking for a Barbie to send to her friend on the East Coast as part of a joke gift. But despite 78 Barbies shown on the site, her daughter, Jenna, could choose only from about 20 in stock. Those turned out to be mostly collector's items, or otherwise unsatisfactory, and she is now looking at other options, her mother said.
''She's getting a little desperate,'' said Dicasparro. ''It's getting kind of late for Christmas . . . It's too bad they didn't have a better selection.''
The notices, that an item is ''not stocked or has been discontinued'' show up throughout the toy site.
For example, shoppers searching Tuesday afternoon for arts and crafts toys for the 12-14 age range would find 36 of 50 toys out of stock or discontinued. Similarly, 35 of 52 toys in the category of puzzles and brain teasers for 8- to 11-year-olds were unavailable. Eight of 13 bath toys listed for 3- or 4-year-olds were out of stock or discontinued and 17 of 36 action games for the 5-7 age range were out of stock.
But Toys ''R'' Us said it's not surprising to be out of stock even with more than a week left before Christmas. Most shoppers finish their online shopping several days earlier than the offline world to leave time for shipping, said Greg Ahearn, vice president of marketing and business development for Toys ''R'' Us.com.
Retailers in general tended to underbuy inventory this year, said Carrie Johnson, senior analyst with Forrester Research. She said many were burned last year by excess toys and products and didn't want to repeat the same mistake, especially with the gloomy economy.
''They may be annoying a few customers who can't get the item,'' she said. ''They're risking the customer service but being a little cautious on the profit side.''
And actually, the high sell-outs suggest that the companies did well financially in the holiday season, she added.
For Amazon.com, which has been working with Toys ''R'' Us since 2000, the company didn't see the sellouts as a problem.
''They've done a great job in forecasting and we think more often than not folks will find what they need on the site,'' said Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith. She added that the company hasn't received an unusual number of complaints. Customers can either check back in later, opt for items that still are available or look elsewhere, she said.
''If we don't have it and they can find it some place else, by all means they should get it there,'' she said.
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