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The Most Popular Toys Of The Holidays, According To Shipping Containers

It’s a good year to sell Kinetic Sand and Frozen toys.

The Most Popular Toys Of The Holidays, According To Shipping Containers
[Photo: Flickr user jareed]

Short of checking every child’s wish list, it’s impossible to know what the most popular gifts are this holiday season. It is safe to say that a plurality of these gifts are being sold by a handful of prominent retailers including Amazon, Target, Best Buy, and Walmart. Before that, many of those toys must wind their way from Asia to U.S. shores, on giant container ships. And, in what should come as little surprise, at least to the parents of young children, it turns out that the biggest new entrant into Santa’s global shipping lanes has everything to do with a single movie.

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At least, according to the data.

Indeed, Frozen–which has already shattered records as the highest grossing animated film of all time, and stands as the fifth highest grossing film ever with ticket sales of more than $1.2 billion globally–is this holiday season’s blockbuster. According to data collected during the period from August to October when retailers stock their shelves for the holiday season, Frozen filled a total of 1,267 shipments entering U.S. ports ahead of the holiday shopping season–a growth of more than 470% compared with the same time period in 2013.

Disney’s Frozen Castle and Ice Palace Playset is widely sold out. Photo: via Mattel

According to shipping analytics company Panjiva, shipments of Frozen stuff were more than double the combined number of shipments seen from last year’s favorites, Sofia the First (663) and Doc McStuffins (901). (Shipments are measured in 20-foot-equivalents, which relates to the size of a shipping container.)

And in case you were wondering: Elsa’s more popular than her sister Anna, while Olaf (the snowman) is now certainly more popular than Frosty the Snowman.

But Frozen-related toys could not unseat the long-time, undisputed king of holiday toys, according to Panjiva’s data: Shipments of Barbie and her related toys surpassed 3,000 shipments this year–a 32% increase over last year.


Other fun things that leaped over the 300-shipment mark–historically a good indicator of “strong performance and wide availability,” says Panjiva–included Monster High, DohVinci, Elmo, and Nerf toys.

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Electronic toys are increasingly common on wish lists too. The most popular items, at least according to the number of shipping containers they filled, included Zoomer, an interactive dog, which reached 417 shipments, marking a nearly 300% increase over 2013. Air Hogs, the flying toys most likely to fly into a relative’s head at a Christmas party, increased nearly 70% over last year, with more than 485 total shipments. Educational toys also saw a boost: Shipments of LeapFrog and VTech are up 58% and 26%, respectively.

These numbers shouldn’t be taken as the final word on most popular holiday gifts, of course. Panjiva, which relies on a variety of sources for its data, only tracks shipments by boat, which make up about half of U.S. imports; the rest comes by truck, rail, and air. But shipping is the cheapest method, and most toys sold in America are shipped by boat from Asia. Last year, toys arrived on U.S. shores–mostly at Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Newark–in more than 785,000 shipping containers. About 86 percent of them came from China and Hong Kong, Journal of Commerce estimates.

Photo: Flickr user Glen

Another handy if imprecise metric for gleaning insights into holiday gift-giving: the best-selling charts at ecommerce sites. One item being shipped a lot this Christmas season is Cards Against Humanity. As of press time, three of Amazon’s top five best-selling toys and games are related to the popular party game: the core Cards Against Humanity set ($25), and two expansion packs ($10 each). The other two best-selling toys at Amazon are the Disney Frozen Sparkle Princess Elsa Doll (available from Amazon vendors starting at $19.99), and the Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Kit ($20.99). (NB: Amazon just extended its free shipping deadline to Dec. 19, which is also Walmart’s last shipping day.)

The list is completely different at Target.com. Target’s list of best-selling toys and games are explicitly aimed at children, which is perhaps one reason Cards Against Humanity is, alas, not on it. Here, the best-selling toys and games are the Lego Friends Jungle Tree Sanctuary ($29.99), the FurReal Friends Get Up And GoGo My Walking Pup Pet (price unavailable), the Kinetic Sand – Beach Fun Playset ($22.99), the Littlest Pet Shop Style Set ($29.99), and the Disney Frozen Pull Apart And Talkin’ Plush Olaf ($15.00).

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Frozen toys. Photo: via Mattel

Frozen appears in yet another completely different list of top-selling holiday toys from an e-commerce site: Kmart.com lists their top five best-selling toys this Christmas season as Kinetic Sand Wackitivities ($16.99), the Hasbro Simon Swipe Game ($14.85), the FurReal Friends Pom Pom My Baby Panda ($39.00), the Nerf Zombie Strike SlingFire Blaster ($19.96), and the Disney Frozen Magical Lights Palace Play Set ($29.99). Note that Disney’s Frozen Castle and Ice Palace Playset, $119, is now completely sold out–though you can find it going for between $225 and $700 at resellers and on eBay.)

Toys now make up the third-largest fraction of gift purchases during the holiday shipping-and-shopping extravaganza. In November, Gallup found that 60% of Americans were planning to purchase toys for gifts, just below prepaid gift cards (65%) and clothing (79%), and more than electronics (49%). The same poll found a rising interest in online shopping, with significantly more Americans planning to spend less than they did last year. Despite this–and notwithstanding a labor-management strife that’s slowed West Coast ports–overall holiday shipments are expected to be up about 5%, and toy shipments up about 3% this season.

Even kids who have misbehaved this year might take interest in the shipping metrics. “Despite the anticipated high availability of many toys, Panjiva does issue a word of caution to children who may not be on the ‘nice list,'” the company noted in a blog post. “Shipments of coal into the U.S. from August through October are up 2% over 2013, suggesting Santa might be extra liberal in handing it out to naughty boys and girls on Christmas day.”

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