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33 Interesting Toy Industry Trends

What were some of your favorite toys growing up? From the singing metal top to the Tickle Me Elmo, numerous toys have become well loved over the years. This occurs because of the toy industry trends that are analyzed on an annual basis.

In the toy industry today, family matters. This means nostalgic toys are just as popular as modern STEM toys for Millennial parents.

The focus of toy industry trends today is a little different than in past years because the targeting efforts aren’t aimed only at the kids. The goal of many toys today is to get the parents involved with their children, playing together with the preferred toy. This is why store shelves are filled with classic toys, outdoor activities, and high-tech options.

The Classics Are Strong Within the Toy Industry

  • The estimated market size for toys in the United States is $24 billion, which is an average annual increase of 5% over 2013 data.
  • Reported sales in 2015 were $19.4 billion, which was an increase of 6.7% and higher than the estimated 6.2% growth expected.
  • 9 out of 11 total subcategories that are tracked by the NPD Group experienced growth in 2015 numbers.
  • Outdoor and sports toys average $3 billion or more in annual sales every year, leading the industry.
  • Dolls are the second most popular toy in the US, accounting for another $2.3 billion in sales per year.
  • Toys for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers also bring in over $2 billion in annual sales for the industry.
  • With 20% growth over 2013-2014, building sets have surged in popularity in the United States to account for $2 billion of sales in 2015 for the first time ever.
  • The only category within the toy industry to see an overall decline in sales revenues over the past 3 years is the arts and crafts category, with a net (1%) and $1 billion in total sales.
  • Youth electronics posted a year-to-year decline from 2014 data of 4.9%, but had increases in the previous tracking year for a net 3 year gain.
  • 1999 is the last year the toy industry saw this level of growth, which also happens to be the first year of the Star Wars prequel toys being released to the market.
  • Star Wars toys accounted for over $700 million in total sales, making it worth more than the Avengers, the Minions, and Jurassic World combined.

What we are seeing today, especially from Millennial parents is a desire to unplug their children from mobile devices. There is a certain amount of fun with the classic toys that brought families together in the past and these board games, outdoor activities, and other craft projects are seeing gains because families want more face-to-face time with their kids. It’s difficult to bond when everyone is staring at a tablet, but parents are finding that they can bridge these gaps thanks to toy industry trends like these.

Stem Toys Are Revolutionizing the Toy Industry

  • Since 2014, toy makers have been targeting girls with STEM toys instead of dolls that portray female scientists as an effort to stop the shortage of women in computer science fields. Job growth in this sector is expected to be at 17% over the next decade.
  • Retailers like Disney and Target have also stopped gender-specific labeling on some STEM toys to further encourage girls to explore STEM ideas.
  • Jewelbots is an example of this effort. This toy is a friendship bracelet which allows girls to communicate with their friends by programming their bracelet through a mobile app.
  • Linkitz is a similar product, but designed for younger girls to get involved with STEM ideas. It features programmable electronic charms which snap together like a building set.
  • STEM products, however, are relatively small as they only make up 3% of global value sales of traditional toys and games.
  • Asia Pacific leads overall sales of scientific/educational toys with value sales equivalent to $1.0 billion, with 50% of those sales occurring in Japan.
  • US sales of STEM toys in the last year reported was $576 million. The expected growth of this category is 4% assuming economic conditions remain the same.

The steep declines seen in the STEM sector of the toy industry over the past 5 years are directly related to the economic recession of 2007-2009. The toys in this industry category tend to be more expensive than other toy options, which have led parents to seek out action figures and other more affordable options for their budget. Yet STEM is always an attractive category for parents because kids have fun while learning about important concepts, so the anticipated growth here is an encouraging sign that family incomes are once again stabilizing.

Toys That Teach Children Vocational Skills

  • Since 2012, tablets and apps that are specifically designed to be child-friendly have been a point of emphasis within the toy industry.
  • In the past 24 months, the number of children who are under the age of 8 and using mobile devices has doubled in the United States.
  • In 2014, children were spending 15 minutes per day on a tablet. In 2011, it was just 5 minutes per day. Today that figure is approaching 30 minutes per day.
  • Fuhu, the maker of Nabi tablets, posts $200 million in sales just by marketing tablets with child-friendly apps.
  • A leading toy industry trend is to teach children to be an “ultimate creator,” or to give them access to apps that help them develop a specific vocational skill. This includes stop-motion video recording/editing, recipe access, or even skills like embroidery or painting so they can share their work with others.
  • BabyFirstTV, which is carried in 40 million U.S. homes, has unleashed 27 apps aimed at young children.
  • This also allows parents the chance to interact with their children in a digital world from their own device, which can reduce the stigma of not sharing with parents as kids get older since they’re used to the digital interactions already.

The problem with technologies in this area is that they are more than just a toy. They are an engaging learning tool that can cause damage to the parent/child relationship. If a parent takes a tablet away to “force” their kids to play outside for awhile, the difficult feelings it creates for the child can create a barrier. These new apps are being designed to help parents by teaching children the importance of playing outside while parents interact digitally, giving both a win. Kids decide on their own that it is healthy to put their tablets down and Millennial parents build a deeper relationship with their child that they may not have had with their own parent.

How Nostalgia Has Created a Booming Toy Industry Trend

  • Thanks to the nostalgia factor of collecting toys that parents had as a kid, there is an affordable collectibles market forming within the toy industry.
  • Because the toy industry pricing is purely speculative, many toys that were thought to be potential investments are now highly affordable toys for parents to purchase to play with their kids.
  • Star Trek Barbie, which often has an asking price of $70 or more, can often be found for $10 or less with some online research.
  • The original Star Wars toys from the 1970s and 1980s command some high prices. The same isn’t true for the prequel toys, which barely sell for their original prices. Sorry Jar Jar.
  • Going back to Star Trek – remember those action figures, comic books, and even the collectible card game that was released with the Next Generation series? Many of the numbered figures used to sell for big bucks, but not today. You can routinely find them for $5.
  • Older GI Joe figures can command an extraordinary price, but not necessarily the “Joe Extreme” series. As with many expansions within the same line [Transformers, Stargate, X-Men] the goal was to capture collectible lightning in a bottle twice. Now they’re a great toy to purchase for nostalgic play.
  • 8% of total sales in this category for the year happened in the week before Christmas.

Why is this a growing category within the toy industry? It’s because these nostalgic toys help today’s parents teach their children about the history of their family. It’s another relationship-building tool that can be used through play to talk about Grandma and Grandpa. As with many other trends, the connections being built are with a family emphasis. Board games are still a great way for the family to sit down together at the table, but so are the older action figures from TV shows and movies now as well. Collectors may be disappointed that there isn’t a huge monetary value with these toys, but there is a strong motivation for Millennial parents to seek them out.

Toy Industry Statistics

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