Source: Pexels

It’s official: 2020 was a record year for the U.S. toy industry.

Despite retail sales being flat for the first quarter and fears of catastrophic declines as nationwide stay-at-home orders took effect amid the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. toy industry sales grew by 16% according to The NPD Group. The latest NPD data reflects $25.1 billion* in sales last year, an increase of $3.5 billion over 2019.

Take that, “kids don’t play with toys anymore” crowd.

The money moved around as consumer habits changed with big boxes and digital sellers gaining market share. The rise in remote learning paired with families spending more time than ever together at home led to big increases beginning in April. According to NPD, the distribution of stimulus checks also helped increase purchasing at a time when families were diverting funds from canceled entertainment options such as movies and sporting events to at-home fun.

“2020 was an unprecedented year for the U.S. toy industry,”  says Juli Lennett, vice president and industry advisor, U.S. Toys, The NPD Group. “The growth we’ve seen in the toy industry speaks to the fact that parents are willing to put their children’s happiness above all else. The industry’s resiliency is very much underpinned by the reality that, in times of hardship, families look to toys to help keep their children engaged, active, and delighted. Put simply, toys are a big part of the happiness equation.”

Related: Metamorphosis: The U.S. Toy Industry Word for 2021

Fashion dolls and accessories spiked 56% last year leading double-digit growth in several categories, including a 31% boom in sports toys — including scooters, skateboards, and skates — a 29% increase in games, and a 26% increase in building sets. Additionally, summer and seasonal toys grew 24%.

It’s important to note that declines were felt across the impulse category as lack of foot traffic from kids resulted in lighter sales for pocket money toys priced under $5. Conversely, sales on higher-ticket items, such as swing sets and ride-on toys helped to drive a 16% increase in the average ticket price despite lower unit sales across seven of the 11 tracked supercategories at NPD.

The top properties for 2020 included MGA Entertainment’s L.O.L. Surprise!, Mattel’s Barbie, Star Wars, Pokémon, and Marvel Universe.

Data is representative of retailers that participate in The NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service. NPD’s current estimate is that the Retail Tracking Service represents approximately 78% of the U.S. retail market for toys. When combined with data not tracked by NPD, the total dollar amount for the U.S. toy industry is expected to go higher, perhaps hitting $30 billion for the first time in history.

Sources: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service, January-December 2020 vs. 2019; The NPD Group/ Consumer Tracking Service / U.S. / YTD September 2020 vs. 2019

About the author

James Zahn

James Zahn

James Zahn, AKA The Rock Father, is Editor-in-Chief of The Toy Book, a Senior Editor at The Toy Insider and The Pop Insider, and Editor of The Toy Report, The Toy Book‘s weekly industry newsletter. As a pop culture and toy industry expert, Zahn has appeared as a panelist and guest at events including Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) Wizard World Chicago, and the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy. Zahn has more than 30 years of experience in the entertainment, retail, and publishing industries, and is frequently called upon to offer expert commentary for publications such as Forbes, Marketwatch, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, Reuters, the Washington Post, and more. James has appeared on History Channel’s Modern Marvels, was interviewed by Larry King and Anderson Cooper, and has been seen on Yahoo! Finance, CNN, CNBC, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, CBS, WGN, The CW, and more. Zahn joined the Adventure Media & Events family in 2016, initially serving as a member of the Parent Advisory Board after penning articles for the Netflix Stream Team, Fandango Family, PBS KIDS, Sprout Parents (now Universal Kids), PopSugar, and Chicago Parent. He eventually joined the company full time as a Senior Editor and moved up the ranks to Deputy Editor and Editor-in-Chief.