A woman looks at toys at a Toys “R” Us store in Guelph, Ont. in this undated handout photo. While holiday spending is expected to be muted this year overall, toy retailers like Toys “R” Us are expecting strong sales as parents aim to give kids a “normal” holiday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Toys “R” Us *MANDATORY CREDIT*

A woman looks at toys at a Toys “R” Us store in Guelph, Ont. in this undated handout photo. While holiday spending is expected to be muted this year overall, toy retailers like Toys “R” Us are expecting strong sales as parents aim to give kids a “normal” holiday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Toys “R” Us *MANDATORY CREDIT*

‘Flying off the shelves’: Toys likely bright spot amid muted holiday retail season

Retailers say some inventory is already thin as people shop earlier than normal

In a year plagued by a deadly virus, closures and cancellations, parents are eager to give their kids a Christmas like, well, every other.

Overall holiday spending is expected to be muted as the second wave of COVID-19 worsens, causing ongoing economic uncertainty and tighter travel and gathering restrictions. One report from Deloitte Canada says holiday spending is expected to fall 18 per cent, with one in three Canadians planning to spend less.

But retail analysts say the lack of normalcy in 2020 may a driver for strong toy sales. Much of the drop is tied to lower spending on travel, dining out and entertaining, and experts suggest parents will forgo gifts for each other or make other sacrifices to put toys under the tree.

“People will want to do something to keep it as close to normal as possible, especially if you’ve got kids,” says Tim Sanderson, executive vice-president and national lead for retail with JLL Canada

In fact, the toy category has proven resilient throughout the pandemic so far.

Since lockdowns last spring, parents have scooped up “boredom busters” like puzzles, Lego, arts and crafts supplies, board games and outdoor activities.

Now retailers are expecting that trend to hold up during the biggest gift giving season of the year.

“With all kids’ events, camps and schools closing, parents have really tried to compensate to make sure that their kids are having fun or entertained or distracted,” says Gail Banack, chief kids officer for Indigo Books & Music Inc.

“We’re continuing to see that trend going into the holidays.”

With strong toy sales expected, retailers have rolled out sales early to keep shopping safe and physically distanced. Black Friday deals have been extended over the month, for example, to spread out shoppers and avoid long queues.

They’ve also released hot toys lists and tips ahead of schedule, and are encouraging parents to shop early to avoid disappointment.

The messaging appears to be working. While there are fewer customers shopping in stores, there are also fewer people just browsing or “shopping around.”

“There has been a decline in traffic in our stores, but we’re seeing that offset by the average transaction value going up with larger basket sizes,” says Sarah Jordan, CEO of Mastermind Toys.

She says the toy store chain, which focuses on educational kids’ toys, has also seen meteoric growth in online sales and curbside pickup orders.

“Customers are crossing off their holiday shopping list earlier than ever before to avoid crowds and last-minute trips to the stores,” Jordan says. “The bigger ticket items are flying off the shelves.”

Indeed, the messaging from retailers and mail delivery services urging people to shop early is working – perhaps too well, for the procrastinators among us.

Retailers say some inventory is already thin as people shop earlier than normal.

Sean Williams, vice-president and chief merchant with Toys “R” Us Canada, says the toy industry has been good at avoiding the Tickle Me Elmo toy shortages of years past – a plush children’s toy that sparked a holiday shopping frenzy in 1996 after it sold out.

But he says the pandemic is not something the industry could have prepared for.

“There’s been an insatiable demand on the consumer side for toys throughout the pandemic,” Williams says.

He says early holiday sales numbers are “far exceeding our expectations.”

“There are some items that are going to disappear and be much tougher for people to find for the big day.”

With that in mind, executives from three of the country’s top toy retailers are naming the hottest holiday toys, giving some insight into what products could run low on inventory – or are already nearly sold out.

One of the most sought-after toys this season is a collaboration between plastic construction toy maker Lego and video game company Nintendo. Lego Super Mario Adventures lets users build real-life versions of the video game levels, like deserts and grasslands.

“It’s had a spectacular debut,” says Mastermind’s Jordan. “It is proving to be a popular item … if you want it, you should get it soon.

She adds: “If there is a hit toy of the season, that is certainly it.”

READ MORE: Canada Post urges holiday shoppers to buy gifts early amid surge in online shopping

The next hot toy is the Star Wars “The Child” Animatronic Edition – also known as Baby Yoda.

The Hasbro figure makes sound effects inspired by Disney Plus’s “The Mandalorian,” with a motorized head, ears and eyes.

“It just landed and it’s starting to fly off the shelf,” Williams with Toys “R” Us says.

Another hot item is expected to be Present Pets by Canadian toy company Spin Master.

The interactive pets unbox themselves, revealing one of two possible plush puppies programmed with more than a hundred sounds and actions.

“For parents that aren’t ready to buy a puppy, this is a great alternative,” says Banack with Indigo. “It’s really bringing together the innovation of the pet with this trend that we’ve been seeing for years about unboxing.”

Other hot sellers include Vtech’s Kidizoom Creator Cam, MGA Entertainment’s Na! Na! Na! Surprise Ultimate Surprise Rainbow Kitty and Spin Master’s Hatchimals Pixies Crystal Flyers toy.

But toy retailers say classic children’s gifts like games, puzzles and outdoor activities are also expected to post strong sales this holiday.

“That was something that really took off during COVID and has sustained itself,” Banack says.

She says many parents are trying to limit screen time for children, increasing the appeal of some of the more traditional gifts.

“I think one of the objectives of every parent going into the holidays is to get their kids off devices,” Banack says. “We believe books are always a great choice.”

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

coronavHolidaysRetail

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police will be out in force to target drunk drivers this weekend as part of ICBC’s annual CounterAttack campaign. (Contributed - ICBC)
Police launch Christmas CounterAttack this weekend

On average, 11 people are killed in crashes involving impaired driving on the Island every year

Victoria police arrested a man in a Yates Street grocery store Nov. 27 after he refused to wear a mask. (Black Press Media File photo)
Belligerent man arrested in Victoria grocery store after refusing to wear mask

Officers fined the man $230 under the COVID-19 Related Measures Act

A 43-year-old woman is facing charges for impaired driving and leaving the scene of a crash after attempting to flee from police by driving down the beach in front of the Oak Bay Marina on Nov. 23. (Oak Bay Police/Twitter)
Victoria woman drives over seawall onto beach near Oak Bay Marina

Driver faces charges for fleeing crash, refusing breathalyzer test

Friends with Dorothy opens in Victoria.
LGBT2Q+ lounge Friends with Dorothy opens second location in Victoria

The Kelowna-based lounge plans to open in Victoria mid-December

Sig
Traffic delays expected on Monday from highway construction in Sooke

Single-lane alternating traffic between Otter Road and Caldwell Road

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks along the seawall in North Vancouver Wednesday, November 25, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
911 new COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths as B.C. sees deadliest week since pandemic began

Hospitalizations reach more than 300 across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Most Read