Toy industry bets on Pokemon Go to fuel sales

New York - Coming off its best Christmas in years, the United States toy industry is wagering that the Pokemon Go craze will command a lot of space on children’s wish lists.

Pokemon-branded video games from Nintendo and a plush Pikachu character that wiggles its ears from Tomy highlight the Toy Insider’s Hot 20 list, an industry publication’s best guess at what items will be the most coveted this holiday-shopping season. The Pokemon Go mobile app, which debuted in July, has been downloaded more than 500 million times.

Pokemon Pikachu characters parade at the Minatomirai shopping zone in Yokohama, Japan, on August 10, 2016. Picture: Shizuo Kambayashi. Credit: AP

“Pokemon Go has definitely given us a fresh look at Pokemon,” said Laurie Schacht, publisher of the Toy Insider. “Both the toys and the video games are skyrocketing.”

In 2015, the US toy industry grew 6.7 percent, according to NPD Group. That momentum has continued in the first half of this year: Sales gained 7.5 percent, with Star Wars, Hasbro’s Nerf, Shopkins and Pokemon among the biggest brands, according to the researcher.

Walt Disney’s release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens late last year - the first film from the blockbuster franchise in a decade - has been a big boost to the industry. And while another Star Wars movie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, comes out in December, just one Star Wars toy made the hot list. It’s a Lego A/S construction set of an X-wing fighter. The list also features only one item tied to Frozen, the gigantic Disney hit from 2013: a doll from Jakks Pacific that lights up and makes sounds.

Some toys without ties to major entertainment franchises may be poised to sell well. Moose Toys’ Shopkins, a popular collection of plastic figurines, has an item on the list. There’s also Hasbro’s Speak Out, a game that challenges people to talk while wearing a mouthpiece. The item comes after of the surprise success of a bare-bones game called Pie Face last year.

Another trend this year is pricier items loaded with technology. The Toy Insider also released a list of top tech toys, ranging from $200 for an Air Hogs drone from Spin Master to Mattel’s Hello Barbie Dreamhouse for $300, which offers speech recognition.

Toys “R” Us Chief Executive Officer Dave Brandon says these technologically advanced items have a market, but manufacturers went too far last year, hurting the industry. This year, the retailer has been pleased to see the average price for toys decline, which should generate more spending, he said.

“If Johnny has a Christmas list, and the first item costs $250, then Johnny is going to get one item,” said Brandon, who joined the struggling retailer last July. “The manufacturers are seeing that there is a lot of ways to build sales and share through more reasonable price points that are more affordable and appeal to more families.”