NEWS ANALYSIS: All I want for Christmas

With the Dream Dozen revealed, Lewis Tyler took a look at the Christmas lists published by the big name retailers over the past few months and asked independent toy shops what they thought their top sellers will be this year...
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And 2011’s must-have toy is…. Well, it seems that this year there isn’t just one, but a whole raft of products which are going to boost retailers’ coffers throughout the festive season.

This year Tesco started the predictions a little prematurely with its Christmas top ten on June 6th – a whole month earlier than we’re traditionally used to. At the top of its ranked list was Mattel’s Fijit Friends, which at the time Tesco senior buying manager John Stanhope described as ‘this year’s must-have gadget.’

Although the purple, squishy interactive toy had gained a valuable endorsement from the UK’s grocery goliath, as more Christmas lists were released, more competitors to the ‘must-have’ crown emerged. Fijit Friends continued to earn itself a regular placing on the subsequent top toys lists, but it was joined by some serious competition.

We took the major retailers’ Christmas lists and combined them. The results show that in terms of support from UK retail, not one single toy got its nose out in front. In fact four toys: Let’s Rock Elmo and Nerf Vortex Nitron from Hasbro, the LeapPad Explorer from LeapFrog and Mattel’s Fijit Friends all earned themselves an equal number of Christmas list nominations.

Even spread
Where the media and the public have become trained to look for a single front-runner each year (think Furby, Thunderbirds Tracey Island and Buzz Lightyear), 2011 has us spoilt for choice. So why is this?

On announcement of the Dream Dozen, Gary Grant, chairman of the TRA’s Dream Toys selection panel, commented: "This year we’ve seen some amazing technological advancements from the toy industry. This doesn’t mean to say that the toys are ‘techy’; rather that technology has been used to enrich the whole experience of play.”

Grant has a point. In the Dream Dozen and in our collated list, technological advancement is a common theme.

Is that the problem? While most of the product is innovative, it’s not strictly unique because the boundaries are being pushed across the board. Where there’s a Let’s Rock Elmo, there’s also a Dance Star Mickey and where there’s a LeapPad, there’s an Innotab.

Perhaps this year more than any other, there are just many more stand out toys, and that can’t be a bad thing for the industry.

Without being limited to a few focal products the market stands to benefit from a more even spread of the consumer spend.

Parents won’t have to fight over the last Buzz and kids won’t have to settle for whatever’s left on the shelf come Christmas Eve.

independent choice
Undeterred in our quest to identify a top Christmas product, we asked indies what they thought their top sellers would be.

On receiving the first round of nominations it became clear the predictions from small shops would not exactly reflect those of the big name retailers.

Few independent retailers named any ‘big box’ items on their lists (products priced over £70) with mid to low price-point items proving the most popular.

Collectables continue to drive toy industry growth in 2011 and around 35 per cent of respondents to our survey said that a collectable line would be a bestseller for them this Christmas, with Vivid’s Moshi Monsters Moshlings coming out on top. (Vivid has predicted sales of 20 million of these before Christmas.)

Around 70 per cent of those surveyed said that at least one wooden toy would be a bestselling line for them come December 25th. While this statistic is far from revelatory it’s a stark contrast to the predictions from major retailers, where wooden toys were conspicuous by their absence.

In terms of wood, products from suppliers such as Bigjigs, John Crane and Orchard Toys were most common, as were balance bikes.

So what happened to the bigger ticket items?

Priced out?
Well, price is probably the best place to start. Half of the toys in the Dream Dozen, for example, carry an retail price of £50 or over, with only one (Vivid’s Moshling Treehouse) priced under £20.

With family budgets tightening and the retail giants aggressively and publicly undercutting each other’s toy prices, parents will naturally be tempted to spend their main present budget with one of the multiples.

It would seem it’s literally impossible for independent retail to compete on price when the sale toys cost less to buy at retail than they do at trade.

“I don’t blame them,” says Sharon Allam, owner of Pink Pig Toys in Bedfordshire. “If I could offer those prices, I would. Obviously they’re going to do that and as a consumer, you want the best price so you’re going to go there.”

Like Pink Pig Toys, many respondents commented that the best way to compete is to offer what the supermarkets don’t: a wide and differentiated product range.

Allam thinks her top three sellers will be Fiesta Crafts’ Large Fabric Calendar, the Jack in the Box range from Schilling and Moshling five packs from Vivid.

Lesley Schwarz, owner of Magic Dragon Toys in Bristol, says: “I think people are not spending as much money at the moment and I couldn’t begin to compete with the supermarket prices.”

Based on current sales and demand, Schwarz picked John Crane’s Pintoy Fire Station and Fire Engine alongside TymeAgain products – wooden, medieval-themed role-play toys.

“I check the Dream Toys list and it has no comparison to what we sell. Things are slowing down on the big box items,” says Paul Carpenter, owner of Totally Toys.

Carpenter highlighted Vivid’s Moshlings, Sylvanian Families from Flair and Lego’s Star Wars Millennium Falcon.

For Totally Toys, the Lego Millennium Falcon proved to be an exception to the downturn in big box sales – Carpenter ordered six of them and, despite a hefty retail price of well over £100, sold all but one within two weeks.

The feedback we received from independent retailers was wide ranging and differentiated, with each collection of nominations almost completely unique to the next.

One point everyone we spoke to seemed to agree on, was that for Christmas this year, there is not one, but several standout, must-have toys.

The Slow Toy Movement

One person who is definitely disillusioned by the toys on the retail Christmas lists is Asobi Toys owner, Thierry Bourret.

Bourret recently launched the Slow Toy Movement as an antidote to what he calls the ‘plastic monstrosities’ regularly appearing on the lists.

While it might seem more Scrooge than Santa, the movement could find support among the many independents whose Christmas picks were more in line with the non-plastic, non-battery operated toys which Bourret prefers.

To fulfil the ultimate goal of promoting “well made toys that are sourced ethically and leave plenty to a kid’s imagination,” The Slow Toy Movement has now revealed its top toy list for Christmas.

Speaking to ToyNews, Bourret said: “If you look at the Dream Dozen there is nothing in there from the likes of John Crane and Bigjigs – these are huge companies.
“I want kids to play with good quality stuff. People should know that you can spend less and get something that will last in the child’s memory for 20 years.”

The Christmas lists combined (in descending order)

  1. Nerf Vortex Nitron (Hasbro)
  2. Fijit Friends (Mattel)
  3. LeapPad (LeapFrog)
  4. Let's Rock Elmo (Hasbro)
  5. Cars 2 Finn McMissile (Mattel)
  6. Kidizoom Twist (VTech)
  7. Moshling Treehouse (Vivid)
  8. FurReal Cookie (Hasbro)
  9. Dance Star Mickey (Mattel)
  10. Milky the Bunny (Flair)
  11. Doggie Doo (John Adams)
  12. Ninjago Fire Temple (Lego)
  13. Bop It XT (Hasbro)
  14. Innotab (VTech)
  15. Air Swimmers (Wow Stuff)

Represents collated data from Christmas lists of Tesco, Toys R Us, Argos, Smyths, Hamleys, Littlewoods, Firebox, Amazon,, John Lewis plus the TRA's Dream Dozen.

Only UK retailers were considered and supplier lists excluded.


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