Action Figures, Dolls Grow as U.S. Toy Industry Retail Sales Fall 4%, NPD Says

The numbers are in for what will be remembered as a rollercoaster year for the U.S. toy industry.

Retail toy sales in the U.S. fell 4% in 2019, according to The NPD Group. This marks the second year of decline following four consecutive years of growth that came to a halt upon the closure of Toys “R” Us (TRU) in 2018. U.S. retail sales of toys generated $20.9 billion last year compared to $21.8 billion in 2018. The data comes from The NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service, which represents approximately 78% of the U.S. retail market for toys. The decline in toys comes alongside a lackluster overall holiday season at retail in which sales were nearly flat across the board.

“2019 was one of the more complicated years to get a good read on toy industry health,” says Juli Lennett, vice president and industry advisor, toys, The NPD Group. “Every time period had a substantial ‘one-off’ event that impacted the trend. 2020 will be far less complicated and we should get a clean, like-for-like comparison of toy industry trends as early as January.”

The first half of last year was riddled with comparisons to the liquidation of TRU. Last August, NPD declared that the industry had “turned the corner” on the liquidation and was looking toward growth in the back half of the year. The industry did see growth in Q3, but the shortest holiday shopping season since 2013 looks to have taken a toll. NPD says that toy sales during Black Friday week were flat, and for the first time in tracked history, toy sales during Cyber Week eclipsed the usual Black Friday boom.

Fashion dolls logged the highest growth by dollars across the 96 classes tracked by NPD. The growth was led by the O.M.G. Surprise! extension of MGA Entertainment’s (MGAE) L.O.L. Surprise! line, Hasbro’s Frozen 2 dolls, and Mattel’s Barbie assortment. Sales of Fortnite and Toy Story toys contributed to an 11% increase in the action figures category. Disney’s Frozen 2 and Toy Story 4 led their respective franchises to the top of the property growth list.

Confirming previous forecasts, sales were flat in games and puzzles, though Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering grew in the strategic trading card game class contributing to the second-largest top dollar growth class behind fashion dolls.

Other notable highlights include growth in building sets; outdoor and sports toys; and skates, skateboards, and scooters.

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.