According to NPD, the U.S. toy market increased by 16% in 2020. Although I am, of course, happy about the excellent news, I have questions. Here is why:
- The last time NPD announced a double-digit increase in U.S. toy sales was in 1992, almost thirty years ago. In other words, double-digit growth in toy sales is very rare—particularly one that is 16%.
- According to Verge, NPD reported that spending on video game “hardware hit its highest level since 2011… a 35 percent increase compared to 2019.” I checked, and in 2011, the toy industry was down 2.3%. A major reason for that decline is that video games are not counted as toys, and they historically cannibalize toy sales. How then did the toy industry overcome an onslaught from the new Xbox Series X from Microsoft and PlayStation 5 from Sony, and generate a 16% increase?
- 2020 was a tale of two toy industries, one that flourished and one that endured bankruptcies and closed stores. The former consists of well-funded toy companies whose primary account base consists of Walmart, Target, Amazon, and Costco. The other is a toy industry, which depends on small stores, many of which suffered mightily. How did the part of the toy industry that struggled in 2020 figure into NPD’s 16%?
- 2020 was a year of sickness, trade controversies, logistics challenges, and political mayhem. How with all of these headwinds, did the toy industry flourish?
- NPD finishes their press release (Toy Book) with this statement: “Data is representative of retailers that participate in The NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service. NPD’s current estimate is that the Retail Tracking Service represents approximately 78% of the U.S. retail market for toys. When combined with data not tracked by NPD, the total dollar amount for the U.S. toy industry is expected to go higher, perhaps hitting $30 billion for the first time in history.” Why does NPD think that that 22% they don’t cover aligns with the growth with the growth seen by the 78% they do cover? Does it include those toy industry segments that struggled in 2020?
2020 was indeed an excellent year for the toy industry, but it was no ordinary year. Yes, consumers repurposed their dollars away from third party attractions like Disney World and to backyard swing sets. Yes, the toy industry is resilient in the face of economic downturns. Yes, consumers spent more on high-priced products like swing sets and trampolines.
Yet, 16% is no ordinary toy industry sales increase. More granularity of NPD on how they arrived at their numbers would help an industry that needs to understand itself better. Particularly in a year in which not all boats rose on a tide of consumer toy spending.