U.S. toy sales last year grew 6.7% to $19.4 billion, one of the best years the toy industry has had in years, according to research from the NPD Group released Wednesday.
Content, including movies, television shows, and YouTube, was a major factor spurring that growth, with Star Wars-related toys in particular enjoyed some $700 million in sales, more than Jurassic World, Minions, and Avengers combined. Nine of the 11 “super-categories” of toys saw growth last year, the top two being games/puzzles, which grew 10.8%, and vehicles, which grew 9.7%.
The timing of Christmas, which fell on a Friday, was a factor, according to the report. Toys sales Christmas week (Dec. 20-26) grew 25%, more than all other Q4 weeks combined, and that week accounted for 8% of the toy sales for the year. The week before Christmas topped that at 8.5%.
Star Wars certainly had the force for toys this year, and early sales helped drive the sales growth last year, according to NPD Group. Target sold Star Wars merchandise all summer, and the licensed “Force Awakens” toys and other goodies went on sale Sept. 4.
Retailers went all out, too. Target, for example, launched a “Share the Force” website where fans can upload “Star Wars” memories to be archived at Lucasfilm for all time. And e-retail giant Amazon, no surprise, has dedicated a storefront to it. Several retailers opened specially at midnight for the merch release.
Disney’s immense merchandising prowess was no doubt a real boon to toy sales. The company has been selling and distributing action figures, apparel, books, magazines, collectibles, and more for decades; its trademarking, manufacturing, marketing, and distribution cogs are all nicely moving parts in a well-oiled machine. In 2014, Disney earned an estimated $2.54 billion in licensing and publishing revenue, out of $45.2 billion in total retail sales, from its licensed products.
Plus, thanks to technology, Star Wars toys today are a far cry from the light sabers of the eighties. The same holds true for marketing tools. That Target Lucasfilm archive project, for example, almost puts the original movies’ special effects to shame, though those were cutting edge at the time, of course.
Star Wars won’t be that much of a factor in toy sales until 2017, when the next movie is due out. But toy makers and retailers can take a few lessons from last year’s sales, even beyond Disney.
“The toy industry had an incredible year and, as is typically the case, there isn’t one reason; there were a number of factors coming together to grow the industry nearly 7 percent in 2015,” Juli Lennett, NPD Group’s U.S. toys industry analyst, said in a statement.
True, though content, from movies to YouTube, appears to be an especially crucial driver of growth.