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

Chief Robert Gladstone of Shxwha:y Village at a federal flood funding announcement April 24, 2019. (Jenna Hauck/Chilliwack Progress file)
Consortium of Indigenous chiefs seeking a way to participate in cannabis economy

All Nations Chiefs from the Shxwha:y, Cheam, Soowahlie and Sq’ewlets holding online forum Dec. 2

Signs up at Hope Secondary School inform visitors that the school is a closed campus during the coronavirus pandemic. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
Fourth COVID-19 exposure reported at Hope Secondary School

Nov. 27 exposure two days after another exposure at the school, with five exposures total across SD78

A vehicle incident is blocking all lanes west of 216th Street on the Trans-Canada Highway in Langley on Nov. 27, 2020. Traffic is getting by only on the shoulder. (DriveBC photo)
UPDATE: New incident on Highway 1 in Langley, crashes involving 10 cars cleared

New incident is reported eastbound underneath the 216th Street overpass

Students at the Chilliwack campus of the University of the Fraser Valley. (Darren MacDonald/ UFV)
UFV asking students to voluntarily report COVID cases and exposures to the school

With COVID cases rising and Fraser Health struggling to keep up, students are asked to help

The board room of the Fraser Valley Regional District. (FVRD)
Jason Lum re-elected for fifth term as chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District

The inaugural meeting of the Fraser Valley Regional District Board went ahead on Nov. 25

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

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

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Despite rumours, Surrey RCMP say they are not issuing tickets to people if they are driving in a vehicle with others from a different household. (File photo)
COVID-19 tickets: No, RCMP aren’t checking vehicle occupancies, restaurant tables

Enforcement about education, not punishment says Surrey RCMP Cpl. Joanie Sidhu

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Shoppers line up in front of a shop on Montreal’s Saint-Catherine Street in search of Black Friday deals in Montreal, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Black Friday shopping in a pandemic: COVID-19 closes some stores, sales move online

Eric Morris, head of retail at Google Canada, says e-commerce in Canada has doubled during the pandemic.

Chilliwack school board trustee Barry Neufeld is taking heat over using a ableist slur to refer to three Black Press employees. (Paul Henderson/ Progress file)
BC School Trustees Association president keeps heat on Chilliwack Trustee Barry Neufeld

In a news release, Stephanie Higginson called on voters to take careful note of Neufeld’s behaviour

Most Read