Weeks after saying it expected hoverboards to be a “hot holiday gift,” even “as hot as the Razor scooter,” Walmart is backing away from the trendy gadgets, telling BuzzFeed News today it "probably won't" be offering the self-balancing scooters this holiday season.
"It's definitely something we're looking into, definitely something we want to provide our customers, but we probably won't have it for the holiday season," said Jaeme Laczkowski, a spokesperson for Walmart.com. When asked if it has to do with patent battles over the device, she said "I wouldn't peg it to that. That's one of the factors of course, but we're looking at all the factors. There are myriad factors that go into a decision like this."
Holiday buzz has been building around hoverboards, the newly-popular non-levitating devices that also go by “self-balancing scooters” and “hands-free Segways." But with an ongoing patent battle over the devices, it's looking like very few major retailers will be carrying them this holiday shopping season. Currently, they're mostly available through independent sellers via Amazon and Shopify and even mall kiosks at a starting price of around $270 going up to $2,000.
Toys R Us is one of the few major chains that will carry the toy this holiday season online and potentially in select stores, telling BuzzFeed News earlier this week that it will sell hoverboards "which follow the original patent in our ongoing partnership with Mark Cuban Companies." Cuban recently signed a letter of agreement that would give him the exclusive license on the American patent for “a two-wheel, self-balancing personal vehicle."
Walmart, the world's biggest retailer, told BuzzFeed News last month that it would sell the hoverboard on its U.S. website in time for the holiday season, which typically begins on Nov. 1, and perhaps even earlier depending on negotiations with suppliers. At the time, it said it "bought deep in this item because our buyers expect it to be a hot holiday gift." Subsequently, Cuban said the retailer is “in for a nightmare” if it imports boards that aren’t made by the company whose patent license he recently bought.
Walmart isn't alone in passing on hoverboards: RadioShack said it will not be carrying them this season while Best Buy, as of Oct. 21, wasn't able to say whether or not it will be selling the product.
Target went back and forth on its plans in an email exchange with BuzzFeed News this week, first saying it will sell the device on Cyber Monday, then following up to “there’s a change in direction — Target will not be offering a hoverboard this holiday season.” A few hours later, the company followed up to say: “We’re still working through plans and looking to carry them online. Just nothing concrete to share at this point."
The retail disarray over hoverboards could be a result of supplier issues, patent troubles or even a lack of demand — maybe the devices won't be as big a hit for the holiday season as expected?
Still, the BBC quoted a tech journalist this month in a feature about hoverboards, saying: "There's probably a long way to go before its peak — at the moment it's mainly a lot of hipsters riding around and crashing into each other. The sweet point is when it's £200 and in Toys R Us for Christmas."
This holiday season may represent the sweet point.