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7 Unusual Online Stores to Shop for Toys

Smaller Sites Often Specialize, May Offer Extra Features

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A cool thing about going online to shop for toys is being able to visit a lot of stores without being on your feet for hours, an advantage that grandparents can appreciate. You'll enjoy the experience more if you sometimes leave the online big-box retailers and venture into smaller sites. Here are some to check out. Each began with a specific vision, and each has its own market niche. It's a different experience to shop for toys at these online sites. I think you'll enjoy it.

1. Kazoo Toys

This online store's slogan is "Toys that play with imagination!" You may need a little imagination to use this website, as its search features are limited. Carrying over 200 brands, Kazoo is likely to have that perfect toy, if you can just find it. You can get free help from a personal shopper via phone. Kazoo carries Groovy Girls, one of my favorite doll lines. Look for SmartLab learning kits, baby toys from Manhattan Toys and YBike balance bikes and riding toys.

2. Moolka

Click on a type of toy in the left hand menu, and this website shows you a selection, with the left menu changing to one that allows you to "refine" for category, age, price, brand and country. Fun to browse and easy to use, Moolka could become one of your favorite Internet shopping sites. To get free shipping, order $60+. Moolka has a lowest price guarantee, but read the fine print. Look for animal-building sets by Bloco, gear sets by Quercetti and cool open dollhouses from Plan Toys.

3. Oompa

On Oompa's website founder Milanie Cleere discusses searching for toys that are sturdy and brand-free. Her search took her to Europe, the source of most of this website's offerings. Oompa's website promises "No batteries. No blinking lights. No cartoon-themed toys. Period." The site has good search-narrowing features. Look for whimsical knit baby toys from Yellow Label Kids, pedal go-karts from Berg and cool block sets by Haba.

4. Fat Brain Toys

As its name suggests, Fat Brain Toys excels in the area of educational toys. You can click on a link for American-made toys or a link for toys that are suited for special needs children. You can shop by category or age or use the Gift Bot to help you make a selection. Fat Brain Toys offers $3.99 shipping and same-day service, in most cases. Look for Squigz building toy with suction construction, Hexbug robotics and retro toys like Tonka trucks.

5. Educational Toys Planet

Educational Toys Planet was created to address the "gap between what big corporations were offering and what we were looking for as parents and educators," according to the website. It doesn't have the nifty search-refining tools of Oompa and Moolka, but it does offer a number of ways to search and a "Made in the USA" option. Scroll down to see user reviews for a particular toy; they're easy to overlook. You'll also enjoy browsing this site's "Top Ten" lists. Orders over $75 ship free. Find Archiquest building systems, Educo bead mazes and lots of choices from Alex Toys.

6. OneStepAhead

One Step Ahead is a website with a difference. Its personnel is actively engaged in testing toys and sells only those that pass the tests. As a result, it offers a smaller but still interesting selection. Navigating the site isn't as easy as in the best-designed sites. Look for the You Hue lap desk for little artists, the Kinder Sleigh for snow play and the City Exploration Blocks by PBS kids.

7. All Aboard Toys

All Aboard Toys carries products associated with over 50 characters. In addition to items in popular lines like Thomas the Tank Engine and Transformers, All Aboard stocks lesser-known characters, from Ni Hao, Kai-Lan to Handy Manny. If you're looking for a hard-to-find character-branded item, this is the site to visit. Grandparents will like the classic toys section. Look for Breyer horses and Disney Pixar Cars in Lego Duplo format.

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