The findings suggest that UK consumers are conditioned to wait for last minute festive deals for their Christmas toys.
Last year at this time, The NPD Group reported a year-on-year growth in demand for toys in the run up to Christmas. However, the latest research from NPD to the end of November shows a different picture for 2021. Compared to 2020, when lockdowns powered a bumper year for the toy sector, sales value to date has been more muted, down 4.7%, with sales volume down 0.8%. However, for context, compared to 2019, a ‘normal’ year, then value sales are up 3.9%, with many consumers yet to buy their toys for the big day.
Melissa Symonds, executive director, UK Toys at The NPD Group commented: “The pandemic accelerated the changes to the types of toys we buy and how we buy them. Sales of building sets and games and puzzles continue to be strong, and the online channel has experienced a boost in sales, particularly for higher-priced items. However, despite warnings from the trade of supply chain shortages and early sell-outs, many shoppers have clearly left their toy buying to the last minute and we saw a boost to the sector during Black Friday. Brits still expect price cuts and deals on toys, and we believe many are waiting until the last few weeks to buy just before Christmas.”
Black Friday 2021 posted a 4% hike in sales year-on-year with demand for the highest priced toys particularly strong. Six items in the top 10 best sellers cost over £50, and some considerably more. Overall, average sales price this year has risen 7.7% since 2019 from £9.01 per toy to £9.70.
The NPD Group has reported over the years how UK consumers have been slowly shifting to the online channel as their preferred method for purchasing toys. The pandemic accelerated that trend. With store closures early in 2020 and in the run up to Christmas, toy buyers went online. In the last quarter of 2020, the online channel accounted for 58% of all sales, versus 42% in 2019.
Analysis of toys purchased online shows that these are focused buyers on a mission to find specific higher-priced items and then heading straight to the virtual checkout. With declining footfall in physical stores and little browsing online, impulse buys of toys priced £20 or less have suffered, explaining the decline in sales at these price points observed this year.
In contrast to the significant growth in sales of some toy categories last year, looking at 2021 in isolation would suggest that some have experienced a dip this year. However, when compared to 2019 – a ‘normal’ year – we can see that Building Sets are up 25%, Puzzles have increased 24% and Board Games 15%.
We’ve also seen the rise of a new phenomemon – strategic trading card games – where sales have doubled since 2020. This is primarily driven by Pokémon, but others are growing in popularity.
Traditionally a strong seller, sales of plush toys suffered in 2020 amidst store closures. This year with shops open, sales have bounced back and are up 9%. Another category on the rise is Vehicles (+7% year-on-year), with Hot Wheels driving the category followed by Monster Jam.
Melissa Symonds concluded: “It’s no exaggeration to say we went mad for toys in 2020, and as a result, comparing sales in 2021 with last year can skew the picture of what is really going on. The toy sector is changing as consumers choose new favourite categories, buy more online and opt for higher-priced toys. The good news is comparing sector performance this year to date with 2019, we can see that almost half of the gains made in 2020 have been retained – and a last minute surge to Christmas offers the hope of a good year overall.”