Cowabunga, dude! Retro toys are hot this holiday season

Remember Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? They're back, and retailers are betting they'll be big this holiday season.

Nostalgia sells. 

At least that's what toy manufacturers and retailers are hoping this holiday season. Former Generation Y hit toys like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers and Furby are surging in popularity this year, contrary to the assumption that all kids care about today are toys with screens.

On Monday, the Toy Industry Association released its nominees for its 2013 Toy of the Year Awards. In the running for “e-connected toy of the year” is Hasbro’s Furby, a robotic critter that first debuted nine years before the iPhone was invented. This year’s iteration has an iOS app.

Hasbro's Furby, a robotic critter that first debuted nine years before the iPhone was invented, is on top toy lists this holiday season.

Furby also landed on both the girls’ and boys’ lists in the National Retail Federation’s 2012 Top Toys survey at number three and number nine, respectively.

Slideshow: Hot holiday toys for 2012

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles make multiple appearances on the Toy Industry Association’s list, nominated in the categories of top toy for boys and most successful brand growth for the year.

Experts say there are a few reasons why these blasts from the past are suddenly hot again.

Retro toys “tend to be more popular in times of economic difficulty,” said Gerrick Johnson, equity research analyst at BMO Capital Markets. “On both the supply and demand side, they’re safe,” he said. “You know it worked for one generation of kids.”

Parents with tight holiday shopping budgets might gravitate toward toys they remember enjoying a generation earlier. ”This year’s top toys... have some staying power, meaning children won’t get bored with them within a few weeks,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.

Toys typically resurface in 20- to 25-year cycles, Johnson said. Companies calculate that adults who see familiar characters or games on store shelves will be in the right age range to have kids that can discover them for the first time.

“There’s no doubt that shelf recognition helps,” said Russ Crupnick, senior vice president of industry analysis for the NPD Group. “It’s equally a familiarity factor."

And although parents remember them, old-school toys are new and exciting for today’s kids, said Toy Industry Association trend specialist Adrienne Appell. “Sometimes the nostalgia and the back-to-basics factor is a 'wow' factor for the kids because they’re so used to the technology,” she said. “It’s what parents are comfortable with.”

They’re also cheaper to produce. “A lot of these toy companies that bring back retro toys, it’ll be less expensive for them to do so,” Johnson said, because the R&D investment has already been made.

Although brands are counting on the nostalgia of Gen Y parents to fuel demand, they’re not relying on it entirely. Earlier this year, Nickelodeon released a new "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" television series. The Power Ranger franchise is reintroducing many of its classic characters in a new season on Nickelodeon timed to coincide with its 20th anniversary early next year. In a release last month, owner Saban Brands said the launch would be supported by “a robust global consumer products campaign, character appearances, retail promotions and advertising.”

Classic toys are filling a vacuum in the market. Thanks to the economy, there just aren’t as many potential new breakout hits this year. "Innovation has been somewhat lacking," Johnson said.

Toys take a long time to go from an inventor’s sketchbook to store shelves. Development, manufacturing and shipping from China — where most toys are produced — adds up to an 18- to 24-month lead time. To be in people’s shopping carts now, a toy would have had to be green-lighted as early as late 2010. Back then, the NRF predicted a meager 2.3 percent increase in holiday sales over 2009, so companies shied away from big investments that might not pay off.

What’s more, manufacturers and retailers have to forecast months in advance which toys will be hot for the upcoming holiday season. Even though economic indicators are inching up, they’re unwilling to risk getting it wrong and having to slash prices when the new year rolls around.

“There’s less risk in terms of returns or not utilizing shelf space well” by sticking with proven franchises, Crupnick said.

By 2014, Johnson said new toys will probably be popping up on store shelves as toy companies regain confidence in the market and start investing in the search for the next big hit. But there’s probably still one more holiday season of retro toys ahead of us.

“We’re seeing this trend likely to continue and intensify in the coming year,” Appell said. Parents who hung onto boxes of childhood memorabilia might very well have next year’s most sought-after toy buried at the bottom.

More money news:

Follow TODAY Money on Twitter and Facebook

Discuss this post

Jump to discussion page: 1 2

Furbys sucked the first time around, why bring them back?

  • 10 votes
Reply#1 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 9:34 AM EST

I was thinking the same thing! I bought each of my daughters one "back in the day" and ended up taking the batteries out of them after a few days because they only worked in the middle of the night whehn they would "talk to eachother"

  • 3 votes
#1.1 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 10:52 AM EST

Bring back :

1. Creepy Crawlers Maker !

2. Vac-U-Form !

3. James Bond Spy Briefcase !

  • 1 vote
#1.2 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 5:48 PM EST

Put an Etch A Sketch in your mitts.

  • 3 votes
#1.3 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 8:04 PM EST

I wanna Whistling Top!!!

  • 2 votes
Reply#2 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 10:10 AM EST

I would love my road-master bike to come back that was one cool bike, until some old lady ran it over.

  • 1 vote
Reply#3 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 10:22 AM EST

If you live long enough you'll see that just about everything is "retro" barring computer technology and cell phones. It almost seems as if we've peaked and started to descend intellectually though. There's going to be a lot of very lost people if electrical power ever runs out on a massive scale for whatever reason. I'm glad to be from the "BC" days. (before computer before cell) I really wouldn't miss either but appreciate and use the technological advancements of both.

    Reply#4 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 11:07 AM EST

    I agree. I heavily use tech in my life right now, but actually am old enough to know how to easily survive without it.

    • 2 votes
    #4.1 - Sun Nov 25, 2012 3:33 PM EST

    Bring back the Matchbox Voltron. My Grandson would love it. Furby....not so much

    • 5 votes
    Reply#5 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 1:31 PM EST

    38 yrs. old, no kids, still have my matchbox Voltron standing proudly on my bookshelf. he'd have a brother if they brought it back.

    and furby's were so stupid even back then, i remember standing in front of the shelf repeatedly saying the "f-word" every chance i could in order to taint the whole furby population since they "learned vocabulary" from each other

      #5.1 - Wed Feb 6, 2013 1:15 PM EST

      Where are the retro Transformers? ike Ultra Magnus? My son is obsessed.

      • 2 votes
      Reply#6 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 1:41 PM EST

      Retro Transformers, Thundercats, G.I. Joe, and Original Power Rangers Megazord would all be awesome

      • 2 votes
      #6.1 - Sun Nov 25, 2012 3:34 PM EST


      • 5 votes
      Reply#7 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 1:44 PM EST

      Obviously China is trying to sell off some surplus.

      • 1 vote
      Reply#8 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 2:21 PM EST
      George NYDeleted

      I sure haven't seen the return of the retro toys going off the shelf. I think the writer is wishing for the return of these toys.

      • 1 vote
      Reply#9 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 2:48 PM EST

      Super heroes have seen a remergence with the Avengers and other comic movies doing well. I know a few young kids who are interested in the older figures for that as well as retro transformers

        #9.1 - Sun Nov 25, 2012 3:36 PM EST

        i want rock'm sock'm robots back

        • 6 votes
        Reply#10 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 4:03 PM EST

        My parents bought my nephew one of these last Christmas. It was crap. Everything had been cheapened (naturally). The ratchet in the necks was plastic instead of metal. The ring was also smaller than I remember it being.

          #10.1 - Tue Nov 27, 2012 5:05 PM EST

          yeah 2 pictures post BIG WHOOP

            Reply#11 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 4:26 PM EST

            One word, dude! TONKA!

            • 3 votes
            Reply#12 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 7:24 PM EST

            how bout lincoln logs, tinker toys, elgo plastic brick sets (precursor to todays legos) green army men, and matchbox cars......

            • 6 votes
            Reply#13 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 10:34 PM EST

            Lincoln logs are great. President Lincoln was born in a log cabin that he made himself.

            • 1 vote
            Reply#14 - Fri Nov 23, 2012 11:34 PM EST

            He made himself? That is one very industrious fetus.

            • 3 votes
            #14.1 - Sat Nov 24, 2012 3:31 PM EST

            He also made a Park as well... *snicker*

              #14.2 - Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:27 PM EST

              Has anyone seen the Mattel handheld Football, Basketball or Hockey games? Those are the best!

              • 1 vote
              Reply#15 - Sat Nov 24, 2012 12:05 AM EST
              George NYDeleted

              I guess I must be getting old. I expected REAL retro toys like spinning tops, jacks and ball, board games, baby dolls, plastic model kits, Erector sets, etc....

              Things like Furby were just yesterday, weren't they?

              • 6 votes
              Reply#16 - Sat Nov 24, 2012 6:27 AM EST

              I have to admit that I thought the exact same thing! Once I saw TMNT and Furby, I wondered why they didn't bring up My Little Ponies, which fit into the same category.

              • 1 vote
              #16.1 - Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:46 PM EST

              Guess I am ahead of the game. Gave my grandson his dad's Ghostbuster collection last year and will be giving him the Thundercats and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles this year.

              • 2 votes
              Reply#18 - Sat Nov 24, 2012 8:53 AM EST

              Wooden toys by

              • 2 votes
              Reply#20 - Sat Nov 24, 2012 9:42 AM EST

              Retro toys made in China. No thanks.

              • 1 vote
              Reply#21 - Sat Nov 24, 2012 12:06 PM EST

              Lionel trains made out of metal instead of plastic. Flexible Flyers. Jump ropes and hula hoops. Slinkies (sp?). Snow Coasters. Silly Putty.

              • 3 votes
              Reply#22 - Sat Nov 24, 2012 2:17 PM EST
              George NYDeleted

              Bring back lawn darts. 1.5 lb of terminal velocity, skull penetrating action.

              • 3 votes
              Reply#23 - Sun Nov 25, 2012 7:33 AM EST
              George NYDeleted

              VOLTRON Please. THanks.

                Reply#25 - Mon Nov 26, 2012 2:54 AM EST

                the original hot wheels race track with loops, now that was cool! especially when it comes with the red mustang and blue camaro. man that takes me back to the good old days.

                • 1 vote
                Reply#26 - Mon Nov 26, 2012 9:13 AM EST

                I had managed to dodge the Furby bullet the first time around, but my sister's daughter was just the right age at the time. My sister is going to be giving that original Furby to my girls. Now, THAT'S "retro"! I had also given my daughters my old Littlest Pet Shop and My Little Ponies, which are both big now.

                Incidentally, I have found that the new Furbys are more like last year's Fijits than like old Furbys, which is why I'm glad my sister is giving my daughters the old one. They already have Fijits.

                  Reply#27 - Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:44 PM EST

                  Seeing the many suggestions on here reminds me of the classic and memorable toys from yester-year, many of which have been enshrined in the National Toy Hall of Fame. You can check out many of these here at my blog post >>

                    Reply#28 - Mon Nov 26, 2012 8:40 PM EST
                    Jump to discussion page: 1 2
                    You're in Easy Mode. If you prefer, you can use XHTML Mode instead.
                    As a new user, you may notice a few temporary content restrictions. Click here for more info.