The old saying goes: "There's no rest for the wicked." Well, in 2019 there was no rest for the toy industry either. 2019 was a very challenging year, and much of what happened was beyond our control.
Here is my top 10 list of 2019 news stories, not in any particular order:
1. The Threat of Tariffs
The threat of tariffs on toys has been hanging over the toy industry for much of 2019. Should they go into effect, prices are going to go up and that will present a dilemma for manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. We'll know more on December 15 but there is no telling what we can expect.
2. Hong Kong Unrest
Hong Kong experienced civil unrest for the last half of 2019 disrupting our sense of the city's civility and safety. What happens in Hong Kong does not stay in Hong Kong, at least as far as the toy industry is concerned, and 2020's annual January trip is in jeopardy for some. We love Hong Kong and things are looking better, so let's keep our fingers crossed.
3. New Streaming Channels
The toy industry is heavily influenced by the media, and two new streaming channels, Disney + and Apple TV+, are set to disrupt things for Netflix and Amazon while providing a host of new and old shows and a host of licensing opportunities.
4. Plastics Under Pressure
There is too much plastic showing up in the world's oceans, and kids don't like it. Two children in the UK started a petition that garnered half a million signatures and caused Bigger King to stop putting plastic toys in its kid's meals. The push back on plastics is not going to go away, and it is going to demand new forms of biodegradable plastic.
5. Bricks and Mortar continues to struggle while cyber sales grow
Bricks and mortar retailing continues to struggle. Business at retail stores was down 6.2% this Black Friday while Cyber Monday sales hit a new record at $9.4 billion (it was $7.9 billion in 2018).
Politics roils the country, and that makes it harder for companies and consumers to feel confident and make plans.
7. Mergers and Acquisitions
There was a lot of M&A activity this year. The biggest acquisition of the year for the toy industry has to be Hasbro's purchase of the content creator and home of Peppa Pig, Entertainment One. The year also saw a number of other acquisitions including hedge fund (Elliott Advisors) purchasing Barnes & Noble, Jazwares buying Wicked Cool Toys and JaRu adding Imperial Toy.
8. Mattel Enters the Movie Business with Mattel Films
Say hello to Mattel Films. The company made a significant move into the entertainment business this year and is expected to produce movies featuring American Girl, Barbie, Hot Wheels, Barney the Dinosaur, and View-Master. "Mattel Films" is very, very busy.
9. China to Become the World's Largest Retail Market
Here is how Forbes put it in February: "According to the eMarketer report released January 23rd, retail sales in China will reach more than $5.6 trillion this year, about $100 billion more than in the United States." They predicted that to happen even with a slowdown. Whether it happens this year or next, China is now a significant retail opportunity that toy companies should not miss.
10. Gender Fluidity
The once impregnable wall between the genders has been replaced with what Millennials call "gender fluidity." Mattel was paying attention and launched its gender ambiguous doll line: "Creatable World." Its a bold move for the Barbie maker and one that reflects a clear connection by Mattel with how young adults and their children see the world.