The potential peril of "investing" in Hatchimals

Some people invest in stocks, while others prefer less risky alternatives like bonds. This holiday season, however, a few hearty souls such as New York Times best-selling author Sara Gruen are dabbling in the “Hatchimals” market.

“Hatchimals,” furry interactive critters that “hatch” from speckled plastic eggs, are among the hottest toys of the holiday season. Shoppers who can find them in stock should expect to pay orders of magnitude higher than their $59.99 retail price on sites such as Amazon (AMZN), eBay (EBAY) and Bonanza.   

Gruen -- whose works include “At the Water’s Edge,” “Water for Elephants” and “Riding Lessons” --  decided to get in on the action as well so she could fund a legal battle to free a person she believes is wrongfully convicted of murder. According to PhillyVoice.com, Gruen has already racked up $150,000 in debt on her long-shot legal battle, which she likened to the hit Netflix (NFLX) series “Making of a Murder.”  

The writer, who didn’t disclose the prisoner’s identity, spent $23,595.31 on the toys -- at an average price of $151 -- on eBay the day after Black Friday.    

When she tried to start selling her collection, however, she soon found out that sites such as eBay place limits on activities by new sellers until they establish a track record with customers to ensure “a safer experience for all eBay members.”

Gruen didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story left with her publicist and on her Facebook page and Twitter account. In an interview with PhillyVoice, she said, “It never occurred to me that I’d have trouble getting rid of them.”

EBay has since removed its restrictions on Gruen’s account after it determined that she had the inventory that she claimed. Gruen is also offering six different types of Hatchimals on her personal e-commerce site, with prices ranging from $189 to $219, two of which are sold out. As a bonus, she’s including an autographed copy of one of her books with each order.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Gruen said she had sold 40 percent of her inventory and had given four of toys away to needy children. However, she has also gotten plenty of criticism on social media.

“Even if I just gave mine away at this point, it wouldn’t fix the Hatchimal shortage,” Gruen wrote.

Spin Master, the Canadian toy company that created Hatchimals, was caught off-guard by the “extraordinary” demand for the toy. While additional products will hit store shelves in December, the company expects that inventory to sell out quickly. Spin Master has increased production and expects a “whole new batch of Hatchimals” to be available in early 2017.

“This is a special season, and we don’t want anyone to be disappointed, nor do we support inflated prices from nonauthorized resellers,” the company said.

Gruen may have gotten into the market too late. Two Arizona brothers who went on a $5,000 Hatchimal buying binge in October reportedly were in the black by the time the writer got caught in the frenzy around the toy.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.