The U.S. toy industry experienced a powerful first four months of the year. According to NPD, toy sales were up 27% from January through April. The increase is notable for at least two reasons:
(1) It continues a trend dating back into early 2020. (2) The 2021 results are impressive, particularly as they are against substantial 2020 sales. This years 27% increase, coming atop those 2020 numbers is, to say the least, surprising bordering on astounding. Prior to 2020, the toy industry had not experienced a double-digit sales increase since 1992. We are now looking at the potential for back-to-back double-digit years.
But not so fast. The first and second quarters are historically our two weakest quarters of the year. The third and fourth quarters will tell the tale of 2021.
Here are some questions whose answers, over the coming eight months, will impact how the toy industry fares in 2021:
WILL THERE BE A RETURN TO MOVIE THEATERS?
Will people return to movie theaters? So far this year, there has been little to see, even if you wanted to go. That will change in July when Hollywood releases a host of movies that will appeal to post-pandemic families and adult collectors.
The results, however, could provide us with a double-edged sword. If people don’t go back to theaters, they will have more money to spend on toys and other consumer products. That would be good for toy sales.
On the other hand, theatrical releases sell licensed toys, particularly action figures. So if people don’t go to the movies, licensed toy sales will be negatively affected. How consumers behave will tell us a lot about the future of the toy industry and its relationships with Hollywood.
Here is the schedule of theatrical releases in 2021:
Black Widow (Disney / Marvel)
Space Jam: A New Legacy (Warner Bros)
Hotel Transylvania (Sony)
Snake Eyes (MGM)
Jungle Cruise (Disney)
The Suicide Squad (DC Films)
Paw Patrol: The Movie (Spin Master Entertainment)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Disney)
Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Columbia / Marvel)
Dune (Warner Bros)
Eternals (Marvel / Walt Disney)
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Columbia Pictures)
Spider-Man 3 (Marvel / Columbia)
The Matrix 4 (Warner Bros)
WILL CONSUMERS CONTINUE TO PURCHASE DURABLE TOY GOODS?
I invented the term “Dureable Toy Goods” to describe a class of toys that retail for more than $100 and are designed to last for years. Toys that fall into this category include playhouses, video game consoles, swing sets, and wheeled vehicles. These products had very strong years, particularly the Barbie Dream House.
The question is whether parents will continue to invest in their backyards and playrooms or whether they will redirect that money to travel or other forms of entertainment. In other words, will “Backyard Envy” be an enduring legacy from the pandemic? The answer will tell us a lot about how we finish the year.
WILL THERE BE MORE GOVERNMENT STIMULUS CHECKS?
The United States has issued stimulus checks three times since the pandemic started. Other countries have as well. Many point to these funds as a source for 2020’s increased demand for toys and other consumer products. Will there be a fourth or even a fifth check? If the answer is yes, we should anticipate that toy sales will continue to benefit. If not, then toy sales could contract.
We have a long way to go in 2021. The answers to these questions will shape
just how good a year the toy industry has.