What are kids going to be putting on their lists to Santa in 2019? (And asking for throughout the year?) Well, nobody really knows the answer to that, but in the high stakes toy business, inventors and manufacturers have been placing their bets since last year. And now, it’s go time.
The first months of the year are all about checking out the new offerings, assessing the hits (and the flops) of the past season, and trying to figure out what kids are going to want in the new year. While it’s too early to predict the exact toys that are going to capture kids’ imaginations come November and December, this is the time of the year when industry insiders try to handicap the trends. If you’ve got kids, I’m guessing that some of these won’t come as a surprise. And if you’re in the toy industry, you’ve probably already shown me stuff that reflects these. (Don’t worry no embargoes will be broken here.)
Bottom line: the state of play is outstanding as we go into 2019, and there are really cool toys for everyone—at all prices.
Speaking of which, that’s really our first trend: value. One of the things I always like to say is that as long as humans reproduce and buy stuff for their kids, there will be a toy industry. Today’s parents, though, are very value conscious. Perhaps it’s because they’ve spent a lot of money on toys that ended up in the bottom of the toy box. That’s always a frustration, but I think the bigger issue is that there is so much cool stuff out there that costs under $10. The collectibles and blind bag crazes will stay strong throughout the year, and they’re priced so that they can be year-round purchases. Sometimes we like to say that these sets are the $100 purchase made $2.99 at a time, but kids thrive on novelty and for a kid who’s really into a specific collectible, that can be worth it.
You’re going to see value pricing in every other category from games to blasters to dolls as companies look for ways to deliver big fun for small investments.
STEM continues to be top-of-mind for lots of parents, both in the U.S. and around the world. In fact, in some Asian and European countries, STEM toys are taking a bigger chunk of the family toy dollar than in the past. Fortunately, a lot of the new stuff is fun. What’s going to be new this year is the growing trend of Stem Without Screens. Look for games, activities, puzzles and much more that will incorporate STEM-or STEAM-based curricula in the context of a fun play experience.
Don’t worry, geeks. There’s still lots of tech to play with, but with a big difference. Tech for its own sake is no big deal to kids. After all, most kids in toy-consuming age have never lived in a world without tablets (introduced in 2010), let alone smartphones. So tech for tech’s sake isn’t that big a deal. What we think will be a big deal is what we’re calling integrated play. That’s a semi-fancy way of saying classic toys and tech that work together. But here’s thebig thing, a few years ago, you might have a toy with an app, but kids would only play with one at a time. It could be pretty frustrating. Am I focusing on the toy or the screen? Integrated play makes the two so connected and inter-dependent that one enhances the other. Why is this just happening in 2019 to the extent that it is? Well, for one thing the tech has grown by quantum leaps, but I also think toy designers have finally realized that kids want the simultaneous experience. They want to play with classic toys, and they really like it when they can add to the experience with an app, whether for sharing, creating or adding dimensions like performance statistics. Being connected continues to be critically important as a part of play. What was once a bunch of kids in a living room or on a front porch has been expanded to the ability to share next door, the next town or all the way around the world. Being connected around a brand or a play experience is still the essence of social play—no matter how it happens.
Oh, and if you’re worried that you’ve grown out of toys, don’t. Toys for the adult market are more popular than ever. These can be board games, blasters, drones or much more, but the real trend in classic toys for grown ups is fandom. That means action figures in all kinds of shapes and sizes—from minifigs to one-of-a-kind collectibles—are being designed with the adult collector in mind. Will kids still smack them together and create all kinds of imaginative scenarios? Absolutely, but the adult fan won’t be ignored, and that’s inspiring some really wild design. (If you don’t see them at Toy Fair, you’ll definitely see them at Comic Con.)
If you like trivia, you’ll love knowing that there are usually about 160,000 toys (give or take) on the market in the U.S. at any time. We’d love to show you all of them, but we have to sleep sometime. But stay tuned here as the year goes on, and we’ll bring you some of the best—and some of the best reflections of these trends.
It’s time for us to go play. See you soon!