Most popular toys 2022: Squishmallow, LEGO, Hot Wheels – Houston Chronicle

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Fisher-Price’s DJ Bouncin’ Beats, which jumps up and down while teaching children to count and recite the alphabet.
Claudie Wells, American Girl’s latest historic American Girl doll. 
VTech’s Level Up Gaming Chair, a gaming chair for kids with built in educational games.
Inflation may be the Grinch stealing the gift-buying power of families, but one category of merchandise remains unaffected: toys.
The U.S. toy industry’s sales grew 4 percent in the third quarter of 2022 after a 12 percent growth in the same quarter last year, according to the NPD Group, a retail research firmAmericans spent nearly $1 billion on outdoor and sports toys over the last quarter, on top of billions more spent on games and puzzles, dolls, action figures and plush toys.
“Even in times of economic downturn or uncertainty, families typically want to do right by their kids and have a good holiday,” said James Zahn, senior editor at Toy Insider, a toy review publication. “They tend to cut corners in other places in order to make that happen,” 
For many families, it may be a matter of changing where they shop and what they buy, rather than reducing the number of toys they plan to buy, Zahn said. Discount toys under $20, such as miniature dolls that can clip to backpacks or keychains have become more popular this year, he said. More consumers may choose to shop the toy selection at discount stores such as 5 Below. But for families already planning to spend big, elaborate dollhouses and massive building sets are likely to remain popular.
Many mainstays of this holiday season will look similar to the last — Squishmallows, the popular plush toy for children and adults alike, continue to dominate toy sales. Classic brands like Hot Wheels, Barbie and LEGO are also attracting interest, retailers say. But new children’s entertainment, developments in technology and remote work have all influenced new toy trends this year, said Zahn.
A playset featuring Karma, the lead character of the Netflix series Karma’s World, along with musical accessories.
Mattel’s Mega Stomp & Rumble Giga Dino inspired by Jurassic World Dominion, retailing for $119.99.
Of the top 10 selling toy-brands, seven have tie-ins with popular television shows and movies, such as Jurassic World, LEGO Star Wars and the Marvel Universe, according to an industry analysis by NPD Group. The sales data upholds a longstanding trend that toys related to some kind of online content for children — such as games or children’s shows — continue to grow in popularity.
“When it came to the top growing properties, content was king,” said Juli Lennett, U.S. toy industry advisor for NPD. 
Adie Trento, toy expert at Macy’s, said the retailer has also seen strong sales in content-driven toys such as Barbie and Pokémon — two of the top brands identified by the NPD group as well.
Toys of characters from popular children’s television shows have always been in demand, Zahn said. Popular shows like Paw Patrol, an animated show about a crew of search and rescue dogs,  have multiple toys on the market that Zahn expects to sell well, including a highway truck playset and a wooden truck in which children can sit inside.
But this year, shoppers can also expect to see toys inspired by popular shows on streaming services, such as CoCoMelon. The popular YouTube show for young children has inspired dolls and puzzle games, while Karma’s World, a Netflix-original series released earlier this year  starring a 10-year-old aspiring rapper, partnered with Mattel to produce a line of dolls and toys. 
A special edition of the Nintendo Switch OLED model featuring designs from the recently released Pokémon Scarlet & Violet.
Fisher Price’s DJ Bouncin’ Beats, which jumps up and down while teaching children to count and recite the alphabet.
Unlike last year,  neither Sony, Xbox nor Nintendo are releasing new gaming consoles for this holiday season. But that doesn’t mean popular consoles such as the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch OLED — all released in the past two years — are any less popular.
The PlayStation 5 led video game console sales in the third quarter of 2022, according to the NPD Group. Xbox Series consoles also achieved double-digit percentage gains in consumer spending during the third quarter.
While it’s become easier to get these consoles as time goes on, supply chain shortages have still plagued sales. Between April and September, Nintendo sold 2.5 million Nintendo Switches, Switch Lites and Switch OLED models — a decline of over 15 percent from the more than 3 million sold in the third quarter of last year.
On the software side, this holiday season has seen the release of new games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which passed $1 billion in sales within the first 10 days it was available, and Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, the newest Nintendo Switch-exclusive installment to the franchise. The 2023 versions of FIFA, Madden NFL, and NBA 2K also are selling well, according to the NPD Group.
Outside of video games, kids are looking for toys that incorporate technology in other ways, Zahn said.
Many toys are more interactive than ever — such as the Magic Mixies Crystal Ball toy, which lights up, changes colors and releases fog as children wave a magic wand over it to reveal the plush toy inside. For young children, Zahn said a popular choice this year is Fisher-Price’s DJ Bouncin’ Beats, which bounces up and down as it teaches children how to count, recite the alphabet and even remix music.
VTech’s Level Up Gaming Chair, a gaming chair for kids with built in educational games.
Claudie Wells, American Girl’s latest historic American Girl doll. 
For many parents, the pandemic turned every day into a bring-your-kid-to-work day. And kids have taken notice, according to Zahn.
“The work from home trend had an immediate effect on the toy business,” he said.
Two years ago, Fisher-Price released its My Home Office playset, complete with a laptop and a coffee mug. Earlier this year, Little Tikes added its own version to the mix: My First Cubicle, which comes with a cubicle, a chair and even a watercooler. 
The novelty of direct work from home parodies may have worn off for some parents, Zahn said, but the trend of children emulating adults’ hobbies and jobs continues to drive sales.
For children who have become accustomed to watching people on YouTube or the streaming platform Twitch sit in gaming chairs while playing Call of Duty or The Sims 4, VTech has released a kid-friendly gaming chair. The toy version includes a headset and a gaming keyboard for children to play built-in educational games. Toys based around gardening and cooking have also become big this year, according to Zahn.
But as kids have begun to pay more attention to adults, so too have adults become more invested in making sure their children are engaging in “socially responsible fun,” according to Zahn.
More parents are choosing to buy toys that teach children about renewable energy or recycling, or are produced by brands that have made commitments to be carbon neutral, he said. Toy brands are also increasingly coming out with more diverse lines of dolls, from expanding the range of ethnicities represented to producing dolls that portray various disabilities, such as dolls in wheelchairs or dolls with Down syndrome.
This year’s toy shopping season appears to bode better for shoppers than last year. Instead of supply chain woes leading to limited inventory, Zahn said he expects to see better selection and more promotional sales as retailers strive to get rid of the products that arrived late from last year.
Target, Walmart and Best Buy have already begun to roll out big discounts on some of this year’s most popular toys. And with inventory to spare, there’s plenty to go around.
Megan Munce is a Hearst Fellow working for the Houston Chronicle.
Megan recently graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism with a B.S. and M.S. in journalism and a second major in political science.
She previously worked as an audience engagement fellow and a reporting fellow at the Texas Tribune, as well as an audience intelligence intern for KQED, the Bay Area’s NPR and PBS member station.
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