‘Tis the season – or should we say, the year – for toys. Toy sales boomed in 2020 and have continued to grow well into 2021, reported to gain 11% in Q3 alone. With the holiday season here, new survey findings from CivicScience show demand for toys remains strong, while shopping for toys in stores is likely to make a big comeback. 

A high-level survey of 1,256 U.S. adults found that more than one-third (34%) of toy shoppers plan to do the majority of their shopping in physical stores, outranking online toy shopping. That represents a major rebound from the 2020 holiday season, when an average of 45% of toy shoppers intended to make most of their purchases from online-only retailers, such as Amazon.com.

Top Retailers for Toys

Diving deeper into these trends, the survey looked at where shoppers plan to do the bulk of their toy shopping. Big-box retailers (e.g. Target, Walmart, Big Lots, and Costco) – including both physical store locations and websites – rank just slightly over online-only retailers (e.g. Amazon.com). 

However, local toy stores and “other” retailers (with both a brick-and-mortar and online presence) serve as the primary destinations for more than 30% of toy shoppers, helping to boost in-store shopping intent this year. Other national retailers that sell children’s toys and items include department stores (e.g. Toys “R” Us at Macy’s), electronics retailers (e.g. Best Buy), and specialty retailers (e.g. Barnes and Noble).

Big Growth for Big-Box Retailers and Small Businesses

The 22% of shoppers who plan to visit big-box stores for toys represents a dramatic increase from this time last year, rebounding close to pre-pandemic levels after falling by more than 40% from 2019-2020. While some big-box shoppers transitioned to buying from the retailers’ websites, the majority were likely cannibalized by Amazon and other online-only retailers. Since comfort levels shopping in stores have rebounded, more people are willing to ditch websites for stores.

At the same time, intent to shop at local toy stores has doubled from a low point in 2020, even climbing to well above pre-pandemic levels (at 38% higher). This coincides with recent trends to shop/support small businesses, which for many people may feel like a more fulfilling and exciting holiday shopping experience.

This Year’s Most Popular Toys

In line with last year’s ranking, games and puzzles top the list – 50% of toy shoppers surveyed are planning to gift these kinds of items. This isn’t surprising, given the popularity of video games and consoles (check out the latest video game buying trends). 

Educational toys come in second with 45%, followed by electronic, outdoor/seasonal, sports related, and arts and crafts items. 

Black Friday Is Key for Toy Shoppers 

Due to supply chain issues and higher price tags, consumers are holiday shopping earlier and spending more compared to last year. Likewise, many retailers have released their Black Friday sales early this year to counter supply chain problems. Survey findings (n= 4,292) show that 16% of respondents have already taken advantage of Black Friday deals, while close to one-quarter (23%) are planning to get in on the action. 

Toy shoppers are more likely to take advantage of early Black Friday deals. However, online toy shoppers are significantly more likely to shop early Black Friday deals than in-store shoppers. This suggests store shoppers may not be as motivated by discounts as online shoppers, but rather by the shopping experience itself. However, they are also generally less aware of Black Friday deals.

While the return to toy shopping in stores may bode well for both major and local retailers, things of course could change based on a surge in COVID-19 cases and comfort shopping in stores

More toy-related trends to keep an eye on this year:

  • Buying toys made in the US is important to many Americans.
  • Gender-neutral toys: we’ll be covering this topic in the weeks ahead.
  • LEGO: stay tuned for this year’s LEGO trends.