Inflatable pools, water slides help fuel the fourth straight month of double-digit toy sales gains

Key Points
  • Toy sales in the first six months are up 16% from last year.
  • May and June saw sales of outdoor toys soar.
  • The only category that hasn't benefited has been action figures.
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In March, school lessons moved into the kitchen, after-school programs vanished and some parents were doing double duty, occupying children while they tried to work from home.

Parents turned to toys as a way to fill the hours under quarantine, fueling a massive spike in toy sales that has continued through June, as the number of coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Sales in March jumped 16% compared with the year before, the result of higher purchases of puzzles, games and arts and craft kits, according to data from the NPD Group. Those strong sales continued in April, with a 22% pop from the previous year. Construction sets like Lego grew in popularity with adults and kids.

May saw a 37% increase from 2019 as temperatures across the country soared, prompting parents to buy more outdoor items, playground equipment and, of course, water toys like inflatable pools and slides. Parents continued to spend in June, sending sales up 19%.

"We would never see this kind of unprecedented growth, I've never seen it in my life," Juli Lennett, an NPD Group toys industry analyst, said of the boost coronavirus has given toy sales. "Normally, we are up or down 3% or 4%, so this is certainly very unusual."

For the first six months of the year, sales were up a whopping 16% compared with last year, she said.

The only category that hasn't benefited has been action figures. Without movie releases, the demand for these toys has waned. Not to mention, the category faces tough comparisons to 2019, which saw the launch of toys tied to "Avengers: Endgame" and "Toy Story 4."

Lennett expects toy sales will continue to climb in stride with the rise in coronavirus cases and get a boost from the strong possibility that schools around the country return to online-based learning, delay school openings or stagger student schedules. 

"If the schools decide to go online in the fall, parents are going to look for toys again, especially those activity toys that keep kids really busy," she said.

Conversely, if coronavirus cases decline, then toy sales will likely follow suit and return to normal levels of growth or even a decline in sales. 

Looking to the 2020 holiday period, Lennett said parents will still be looking to put presents under the tree but may have to scale back on some purchases. It's difficult to set expectations at this time because it is unclear if the federal government will continue to provide additional cash to unemployed consumers or issue another round of stimulus checks.

The online shopping push

Coinciding with explosive toy sales has been an increase in sales online. More than $368.8 billion was spent online for toys during the first six months of the year, $77 billion higher than expected, according to Adobe Analytics.

Ar Fat Brain Toys, which sells puzzles, games and outdoor toys, online sales were up 150% since the start of the year, according to founder Mark Carson.

In recent weeks, outdoor water slides, giant inflatable pools and yard sprinklers have become popular items on its site, selling out in a matter of days once they are restocked. 

Similarly, Klutz, known for its how-to books and activity kits, saw a spike in online orders, although representatives for the company did not provide specific sales data.

"Online, obviously, benefited tremendously because it was the only place that was open," Klutz President Stacy Lellos said, noting that the company went back to print on 12 titles due to increased demand.

For specialty retailers, an important subset of Klutz's retail partners, the pandemic was often the final push to either set up an online shop or bolster already-established ones. 

Lellos said Klutz was asked to provide digital images and help these smaller retailers build their online portfolio of products over the last few months. 

"This became critically necessary," she said.

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