by Juli Lennett, vice president and industry advisor, toys, The NPD Group
Dictionary.com chose “pandemic” as the 2020 Word of the Year, but its People’s Choice 2020 Word of the Year contest resulted in “unprecedented” as the winning word to describe the year.
“Unprecedented” is the same word I would use to describe the U.S. toy industry in 2020. When all is said and done, the total U.S. toy industry* should easily eclipse the $30 billion mark for the first time in history, growing in the double-digits for the full year. That is unprecedented.
Lately, I’ve been asking myself, “What word might I be using to describe the U.S. toy industry at the end of 2021?”
I imagine that word is going to be somewhere along the lines of metamorphosis — there will be a profound, yet gradual, change from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. The catalyst of this change will be the COVID-19 vaccine.
Let me explain. Until we have widespread adoption of the vaccine, things will remain relatively the same for the toy industry. Children will continue school at home, playdates will be minimal, spend on other entertainment activities will be low, and families will be looking for things to keep themselves and their children occupied and active. Toys will remain essential.
However, that doesn’t mean we will continue with the unprecedented year-over-year growth trends especially as we approach the one-year anniversary of the lockdowns in mid-March when toy sales skyrocketed. What we can expect is that toy sales will be elevated above 2019 for likely the next six months or more. Because of the elevated sales in 2020, this might be recorded as declines despite the fact that sales will be strong.
There will be a point in time (I don’t know when that will be) where families will become emboldened by the vaccine and they will venture back to other entertainment activities like going to a movie theatre, concert, or theme park, and they will reinstate the coveted family vacation. At that point in time, the much higher than usual spending on toys we’ve seen for nearly a year will ease and spending on toys will go back to similar levels that we experienced in 2019.
The one thing that the pandemic has reinforced is that the U.S. toy industry is extremely resilient to outside negative factors — parents put their children’s happiness above all else and toys are a big part of the happiness equation.
*As measured by NPD U.S. Toy Consumer Tracking Service.