NPD Group: innovation and special occasions set to boost UK toy market at Christmas

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UK toy market

UK toy market

The NPD Group, a global information company, has realeased the UK toy market’s anticipated Christmas trends ahead of the peak season to coincide with the Dream Toys event in London.

The NPD Group’s research shows a significant increase in sales of products with a price tag of £50 or more – up +6% year to date (YTD) to mid-October 2013. Driven in large part by innovation and technology, this trend is expected to continue through to Christmas 2013. At the same time, sales of toys purchased for special occasions have increased +2% in the first half of 2013 (Jan – June), leading The NPD Group to predict a slight increase in toy spend this Christmas. Growth in these segments will help the toy sector end the year on a high note after what has been a flat 2013 so far in terms of overall industry sales.

Children’s tablets will become a £80m market by the end of 2013

Having topped all Christmas wish lists in 2012, pre-school tablets are still going strong following the introduction of new models specifically designed for school age kids and featuring parental control functionalities.  Frédérique Tutt, global toy industry analyst with the NPD Group, said: “We anticipate close to one million children’s tablets will be sold in the UK by the end of the year, making this a £80 million+ market.”

Connected toys that link and share content with tablets such as Furby (Hasbro), robot dog Zoomer (Spin Master), or Teksta the robotic puppy (Character Group) are also increasingly popular. Flying fairy Flutterbye (Spin Master) is one of the most anticipated novelties this Christmas. Following in Furby’s steps, already second best-selling toy in the UK in week 41, these products capitalise on children’s fascination for technology while managing to retain the traditional friendly dimension offered by traditional play patterns of dolls or pets.

Although the price tag for many of the most popular tech toys is over £50, value is of key importance to parents. Tutt said: “In the UK, as in the rest of Europe, people are influenced by a difficult economic climate. Impulse toy buying for instance is experiencing significant declines.  However in this environment of cautious consumerism our research shows that items with high price tags sell very well, especially good quality brands and innovative concepts.”

Big up to the classics

If high tech toys are set to be a big hit this Christmas, traditional categories are holding their own.  Boosted by the Monster High (Mattel) phenomenon, sales of fashion dolls also recorded an 18% increase YTD (mid-October 2013).  Elsewhere, classic board games and vehicles playsets also performed well, with increases of 9% and 12%, respectively.

The state of 2013 toy market

dream toys table

Between January and mid-October  2013, toy sales in the UK recorded a slight drop of 1% compared with the same period last year, which is due in large part to the combination of post-Olympics sales declines, poor outdoor toy sales due to bad weather in Spring, and the absence of a summer movie blockbuster.  The UK’s performance is mirrored across the big European markets: Spain and Italy experienced similar slight declines, whilst France and Germany are showing low single-digit growth.

Tutt said: “Thanks to strong innovation in the high tech sector, as well as solid performances in more traditional segments, we expect the year to end on a positive note for the toy market.  The increase of ‘special occasion’ toy spend combined with the growth of sales in the more expensive categories are great news for the sector, and should have a positive impact this Christmas. This is welcome news after a disappointing start to 2013.”

Gary Grant, chair of the Dream Toys committee, said: “2013 has been challenging so far, but indications are that Christmas is going to be a good end to the year. The Dream Toys list illustrates that there are some outstanding products this season, led by innovation, but traditional toys continue to perform well. There’s a real diversity in the list this year, which has a good spread of toys over different price points which I think shows how well the industry is reacting to the economic current market.”