The holiday season has become a confusing time for shoppers. Cyber Monday deals can last an entire week. Doorbusters that were traditionally planned for Black Friday debut in early November.
While Black Friday is still a big sales driver for the industry, it has lost some of its luster in recent years. Toy retailers, like the rest of the industry, have learned they must change their marketing strategies to keep up with new shopping patterns. Executives acknowledge that they can’t stick to a traditional script to compete in 2015.
“I don’t want to diminish the importance of Black Friday,” Toys “R” Us CEO Dave Brandon tells Fortune. “But now many retailers are marketing holiday deals as soon as November begins, rather than waiting until Black Friday to kick off the holiday shopping season.”
The shift in shopping patterns also coincides with a period of strength for the toy industry, which has faced pressure from the technology world as video games and mobile devices capture the attention of children. But two mega properties have helped drive interest in the category the past two years. In 2014, the industry’s sales jumped 4% to $18.08 billion in the U.S., bolstered by strong demand for Walt Disney’s (DIS) “Frozen” property.
NPD Group recently reported toy sales grew 7.5% for the first nine months of 2015 from the year-earlier period, as demand grew for Star Wars, Minions and tech-enabled toys.
Disney’s upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” film is already lifting sales for toy manufacturers like Hasbro (HAS) and retailers including Toys “R” Us and Walmart (WMT). Some experts say more than $1 billion in toy sales at retail this year should be tied to Star Wars.
Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner has said Star Wars is already performing at the “high end” of the company’s expectations. The toy maker says it is trying to play catch up to keep shelves fully stocked for the holiday season.
With the Star Wars film debuting on December 18, a sales boost should also extend well into 2016.
To extend demand into next week, Toys “R” Us is offering Cyber Monday deals through December 5. Meanwhile, the 224 Disney stores are offering the same deals online and in the company’s brick-and-mortar locations – trying that strategy for the first time.
“We’ve heard about the death of Black Friday but, based on the traffic we saw last night, it is not dead yet,” said Elissa Margolis, senior vice president of Disney Store North America. “It will continue to be the biggest shopping day. But we do want to give the guest the option to shop great deals on more than one day.”
Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of toy-focused website TTPM.com, says some of the toy industry’s hottest items were sold out or in short supply at the six toy retail stores he visited on New York’s Long Island. But because more shoppers are pushing their holiday purchases off until later in the season, they may not realize some hot toys are sold out until it is too late.
“People realize there are going to be new deals every day,” Silver said. “And there is going to be a new deal tomorrow.”
The conundrum retailers like Toys “R” Us and Walmart must confront this year is the fact that many rivals are announcing daily deals throughout the season. How they can successfully communicate their deals to consumers bombarded by advertisements and e-mails isn’t yet clear.
“The challenge we all have is how do we break through the clutter and pick the right items and create an experience – online or in our stores – that will be attractive to shoppers,” Brandon said.