NPD: UK toy market grows five per cent, fulled by games, puzzles, and kidult toy fans

The lockdown success of the games and puzzles market, a surge in the kidult market, and early Christmas trading all fuelled by the restrictions and implications of the Covid-19 pandemic, has helped the UK toy market hit a five per cent sales increase for its overall value.

According to the latest results from The NPD Group, total sales for the year hit £3.3 billion, helping the UK maintain its position as the largest toy market in Europe and the fourth largest in the world.

The biggest spike in toy sales of the past year came during the first nationwide lockdown, throughout which toy sales increased by 22 per cent. The NPD has cited the nation’s rediscovery of the value of play to stimulate children and adults, as well as alleviate pressures imposed by the stay at home messaging alongside the closure of tourism, hospitality, and leisure.

Games and Puzzles saw the highest category growth with a 19 per cent increase, as families spent more time playing together. Puzzles, which can be enjoyed both in groups and individually, increased by 38 per cent.

Building Sets and Outdoor Toys also experienced significant growth in 2020, growing by 18 per cent and 15 per cent 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 nine per cent 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, the industry witnessed yet further evidence of the kidult market’s appetite for toys.

This adult and teen category now represents 27 per cent of total toy sales, up by 16 per cent 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.

Meanwhile, with concerns over shortages of supply and of delivery capacity, people were urged to shop early for toys in Christmas 2020. The result was a very strong November for the toy market, that saw sales increase 11 per cent year on year. This was, however, followed by lower than usual sales in December – down nine per cent year on year – exacerbated by lockdowns in November and December.

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 ten per cent year on year.

Joining the click and collect debate, The NPD Group has said that online services ‘proved to be essential’ for retailers operating within the confines of lockdown and social restrictions. Britons moved online to buy their toys throughout 2020 as retailers adapted and maximised their omnichannel offering to reach them.

As a result, in the 12 months ending September 2020, online toy sales grew to almost half of all sales.

Frédérique Tutt, global industry analyst at The NPD Group, said: “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, added: “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.”

NPD’s Tutt, concluded: “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.”