In 2020 Brits turned to toys and games to bring comfort, joy and support to cope with the challenges created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite a difficult trading year for many industries, the toy market remained buoyant and resistant as overall sales increased in value by 5%, with the biggest spike in sales coming during the first lockdown of 2020 (+22%). Total sales for the year were £3.3 billion, maintaining the UK’s position as the largest toy market in Europe and fourth largest globally.
With on and off ‘work and study from home’ mandates, and the closure of tourism, hospitality and leisure venues, families have rediscovered the value of play to stimulate both children and adults, alleviate pressure and bring happiness to the home. Sales of toys and games offering extended play value have fared particularly well.
Lockdown toy successes
Games and Puzzles saw the highest category growth (+19%), with families spending more quality time playing together. Puzzles, which can be enjoyed both in groups and individually, increased by 38%.
Building Sets and Outdoor Toys also experienced significant growth in 2020 growing by 18% and 15% respectively. Good weather in the spring and early summer lockdown provided opportunities for families to bring fun and add in some exercise to combat the increase in indoor screen time. They also had the benefit of helping to compensate for missed holidays at Easter and in the summer.
The periodic closure of schools also meant that many parents turned to educational toys for assistance to help bolster their children’s cognitive development. This drove a 9% increase in sales of Learning and Exploration toys such as Scientific Sets and Musical Instruments.
‘Kidults’ now responsible for more than one quarter of toy sales
In addition to these trends, we saw further evidence of ‘kidults’ appetite for toys. This adult and teen category now represents 27% of total toy sales, up by 16% since 2016. In 2020, with more time on their hands, kidults completed complex building set kits, played more games and entertained themselves with puzzles. As this group tends to purchase higher priced toys, their buying power helped increase the average sales price of toys overall.
Christmas came early in 2020
With concerns over shortages of supply and of delivery capacity, people were urged to shop early for toys in Christmas 2020 and they heeded the advice. The result was an extremely strong November for the sector, up 11% YOY followed by lower than usual sales in December (down 9% YOY). This was exacerbated by lockdowns in November and December, forcing many retailers to close in what would normally be their busiest period.
Classified as essential retail and therefore able to remain open during lockdowns, grocery chains fared well for toy sales in the last two months, up 10% YOY.
Online and Click & Collect proved to be essential
With movement restricted and many retail sectors closed for business, Britons moved online to buy their toys. Retailers adapted and maximised their omnichannel offering to reach customers during lockdowns and tiering. As a result, in the 12 months ending September 2020, online toy sales grew to almost half (49%) of all sales.
Frédérique Tutt, global industry analyst at The NPD Group, says: “The top 15 sellers of the year tell much of the story for toys in 2020.We turned to toys and games to help fill the long weeks of lockdown. Toys provided the hub for fun, entertainment, education, exercise and stress relief. They helped make the decidedly abnormal feel normal – especially at Christmas. Manufacturers and retailers worked hard to meet the need for toys of all kinds for all ages, shifting sales to online and Click & Collect, and to grocery chains to fulfil demand. 2020 accelerated changes already underway in the toy sector and underlined the importance of innovation, strong supply chain and channel management.”
Roland Earl, director general at the British Toy & Hobby Association, commented: “2020 was an extremely challenging year for retail as a whole, and toy retailers of all sizes had to adapt and innovate in this difficult environment in order to ensure consumers could still obtain the products they require. The end of year statistics reflect the role that toys and games played in bringing enjoyment and assisting families and individuals to navigate the difficulties of repeated closures and lockdowns. Despite varying functions, objectives and age suitability, all toys are ultimately designed with one overarching goal – to bring fun, enjoyment and play value to the recipient and never has this been more important.
“Looking ahead to 2021, the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic will remain for some time, though toy designers will continue to innovate during tough conditions to ensure families have access to the items they want and need. Brexit will continue to have an impact on all industries in 2021, and the toy sector specificially will continue with its thorough preparation following the deal announced at Christmas.”
Tutt concludes: “One thing is certain, the importance of playing together with toys, games and puzzles as a family, group or alone has been re-established during the lockdowns. Many people have also rediscovered the value of nature and the environment in the pandemic, and one encouraging sector trend is that green issues have come to the fore, and many manufacturers are reducing packaging and incorporating eco-friendly materials in their products. Finally, when cinemas hopefully reopen later on in the year, blockbusters will boost toy sales once again.”