Toys and games were once the kings of Christmas. Before children had their eyes on the latest iPhone or tablet, on Christmas Eve their heads hit the pillow dreaming of Mr Frosty, Stretch Armstrong or Bop It!

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That’s not to say kids don’t still want toys – the parents among us know they want for pretty much everything – but toys and games don’t set off quite the same Christmas frenzy at the shops as they did in years gone by.  

Though we’re unlikely to see those days again, at least while Apple is still in business, this year we may find that toys take a starring role on Christmas morning once again.  

A survey conducted by YouGov and Retail Week in partnership with nShift found that, after food and drink, books and stationery top the list of gifts shoppers are most likely to purchase this Christmas at 29% with toys close behind (26%), while electricals and gadgets came in at 13%.

When it comes to which stores consumers are planning to visit, toy shops also come up trumps against tech, with 4.3% of shoppers saying they will prioritise them, compared with just 1.8% for electricals retailers.   

Lack of inflation 

One of the reasons toys may be taking priority this year is because of the cost-of-living crisis. While toys are obviously far cheaper to buy than smartphones and tablets, Santa will also be pleased to discover that toys have undergone little to no inflation over the past year. 

“The toy industry is actually doing pretty well in a tough market. There’s always new products coming out and there’s virtually no inflation in toys whatsoever at the moment,” says The Entertainer founder Gary Grant.  

“This is largely because shipping costs have declined so much over the last 12 months, compared with the prices that we were paying in the early part of 2022 and the end of 2020/21. So I think the industry is offering some very outstanding value products against other items, which have crept up in price.” 

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Mattel expects strong sales of its Barbie dolls after this year’s movie

The fact that there are no new consoles from major players such as Sony or Microsoft will also help give toys a leg up.  

“If a kid’s got a Christmas list and parents are feeling generous, they may buy some of the higher-priced tech items or latest bits of kit,” says Grant.

“When the computer games market has a particularly good year and there’s a new console launching, or some other particularly high-profile piece of software, that will definitely have an impact on the toy market.”

One toy brand hoping for a particularly strong year is Mattel, thanks in part to the Barbie fever that swept the nation this year.  

“We are very well positioned competitively and expect a strong holiday season,” says Mattel managing director for Europe and the Middle East Sanjay Luthra.  

“The company has benefited from the success of the Barbie movie and consumers will be looking to take home the magic of Barbie for children and adults alike.

“We have a variety of different price points for Barbie, from premium offerings to very accessible products, which is important given the current cost-of-living context. 

“The important thing is that we’re able to offer a variety of options and we’re working closely in partnership with our retailers to ensure a good support and shopper experience.”  

Kidult market

Luthra’s point about appealing to adults is particularly noteworthy. According to data from market research firm Circana, grown-ups in Europe spent £1bn more on toys for themselves this year, a trend Mattel doesn’t see going away any time soon. 

“In recent years, toys and games have become increasingly popular with adults, too,” says British Toy and Hobby Association communications and events manager Rebecca Deeming. 

“There’s an increase in kidults, teenagers or adult age groups getting involved with board games and building sets.

“I think, whether you’re an adult or a child, everyone’s talking about that healthy, screentime–life balance, so I definitely think there’ll be an element of that for parents, making sure their children aren’t spending too much time on their iPads.

“Especially after Covid, when we spoke about the importance of getting outside, there’s a desire to make sure we’re striking a balance.” 

Slow start 

Although the odds seem to favour a good year for toy sales, The Entertainer’s Grant says he did not see the kick-start that usually accompanies children returning to school in September.

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The Entertainer is anticipating a ‘late but good’ Christmas

“We expected to see a bit more of a stable year, but this year has definitely been affected by the cost-of-living crisis and people have been slow in responding to Christmas,” he says.

“Not only that, but the start of autumn was so warm. So it’s taken a while for the penny to actually drop that Christmas is only a short while away.  

“Because they have been expecting a later Christmas this year, a number of our key manufacturers have delayed some of the Christmas marketing, so there was less advertising during the month of September and October than there has been in prior years.”  

“Our expectation for Christmas is that it’s going to be late but it’s going to be good.”