What’s Playtime Like in a Pandemic?

Like nearly every other product category, the pandemic has had a major impact on what kinds of toys, games, and hobby merchandise that consumers are buying. Children are spending much more time at home, and months of closed schools, sports, and playgrounds led parents to look to retailers for ways to fill all of this free time.


New Demand for Toys that are Fun and Calming

The first few weeks of the pandemic brought a wave of stress and uncertainty, leading to a spike in sales of jigsaw puzzles and toys related to building. Puzzles “bring order from chaos,” with some brands seeing as much as a 370% growth in sales. According to CNBC, demand for puzzles tends to increase in times of economic insecurity, with the industry experiencing a similar jump during the Great Depression. For example, Puzzle Warehouse, an online puzzle retailer, had already hired thirty additional employees by the first week of April in order to deal with the sudden boom in orders.

Lego® sales nearly doubled on eBay around the world in March, and sales across all retailers jumped 14% in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Like puzzles, Legos® are a peaceful toy that gives players a sense of control and delivers a creative outlet for exploring their imagination.

Nintendo has also had a banner year, with operating profits growing by 428% and company shares up by 35%. Sales are being driven by the Switch™ console, and the game “Animal Crossing” in particular. “Animal Crossing” is a sweet game with very little conflict or negativity, making is a perfect tool for relaxation and de-stressing.


Delayed Movie Releases Hurt Tie-In Toys

For many production companies, tie-in merchandise is a very important element of blockbuster summer movie releases. With movie theatres shuttered and releases pushed back by months or years, retailers are faced with the prospect of trying to sell licensed toys and games for films that no one has seen yet.  Some of the early fears about this problem have been alleviated as family films performed well with straight-to-streaming releases, although these properties will miss out on the “second wave” of demand that comes when theatre releases eventually head to streaming.

Bicycle Boom Causes International Shortage

It was a perfect storm for bike manufacturers: closed gyms led to consumers seeking out alternative ways to exercise, lockdown measures had shoppers itching for safe reasons to get out of the house, public transportation suddenly felt like a risk, and kids stuck at home needed a fun toy that could eat up hours of the day. All of these factors led to worldwide demand for bikes, with U.S. sales of commuter and fitness bikes surging by 66%, leisure bikes by 121%, children’s bikes by 59%, and electric bikes by 85%.

In an interview with the New York Times, Ryan Zagata, president of Brooklyn Bicycle Company, described how a 600% increase in sales volume has made it impossible to restock lower-priced models. “If you went into a store three weeks ago you could find a bike under $1,000. Right now shelves are bare.”

All of this comes months before the start of the holiday shopping season, the most important time of year for brands in the toy and game industry. While some of these trends definitely could carry over into fall and winter sales, the bulk of consumers’ toy budgets are still up for grabs. It will be important to pay attention to sales over the next few weeks, as back-to-school shopping transitions to crossing off Christmas wish lists.


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