US toy sales jump nearly 7%, topping estimates

Source: Sphero

Jedi warriors, genetically modified dinosaurs and a gang of rescue pups helped the toy industry deliver its most robust growth figures in more than a decade.

According to data released by The NPD Group on Wednesday, U.S. toy sales increased 6.7 percent to $19.4 billion last year, topping the firm's estimate for 6.2 percent growth.

A diverse selection of toys drove gains across 9 of the 11 subcategories tracked by The NPD Group, including games and puzzles, building sets, and action figures and accessories. Only arts and crafts and youth electronics posted declines, of 4.3 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.

"The toy industry had an incredible year and, as is typically the case, there isn't one reason," said Juli Lennett, The NPD Group's U.S. toys industry analyst.

The last time annual toy sales grew faster than 7 percent was in 1999, Lennett said. That was the year that "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" was released. The launch of Pokémon trading card games, strong Furby sales and momentum from Beanie Babies also played into the growth.

The firm said content was a "key driver" behind the industry's strength last year. Hot toys included the "Star Wars" BB-8 droid, a rescue vehicle inspired by the "Paw Patrol" television series and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" figurines.

Toys inspired by movies outperformed the market, growing by 9.4 percent. That included $700 million in sales from "Star Wars" products, making it the No. 1 property of the year. The franchise was worth more than "Jurassic World," "Minions" and "Avengers" combined.

According to NPD, the extra shopping day that fell during Christmas week contributed to 25 percent growth during that seven-day stretch. That was larger than the growth seen in every other fourth-quarter week combined.

It was also the second-largest week for the industry, accounting for 8 percent of its annual sales. The week before Christmas was the most critical for toy retailers, representing 8.5 percent of the year's sales.

Toys R Us said earlier this month that its domestic same-store sales rose 1.4 percent from Nov. 1 to Jan. 2.

Overall, the National Retail Federation said retail sales increased 3 percent during the holiday season, short of its expectation for 3.7 percent growth.