How tech & retro could boost toy sales this Chrisimas

Thanks to robotics and voice-recognition technology, toymakers are optimistic about holiday sales. 

Mark Lennihan/AP
Barbie Fashionista Dolls from Mattel are displayed at the TTPM Holiday Showcase in New York. The U.S. toy industry is expected to have its strongest year in over a decade.

In recent years, the touchscreen and video games have overtaken every other toy for children.

But this holiday season, some tried and true toys are expected to regain their position – in smarter versions.  

According to the NPD Group Inc., a market research firm that tracks about 80 percent of the US toy market, annual toy sales are projected to rise 6.2 percent to $19.9 billion in this year.

That's an increase of 4 percent from last year, and the biggest increase in at least 10 years since the group has tracked toys using its current system.

The growth is being stirred by a rising popularity of collectibles (Peanuts), toys based on Hollywood blockbuster films (Star Wars) and toymakers have stepped up their high-tech offerings to make playtime more entertaining and captivating for today's tech-savvy kids. 

"The selection is much greater than in the past," Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of TTPM, an online toy review site told The Associated Press. "Technology is much better in the toy aisle, and it's really inspiring young kids to play but also bringing older kids to things like radio control and role play items."

For example, the "Star Wars" franchise includes the smartphone-controlled BB-8 Droid. And the traditional Barbie doll gets a major upgrade and "Hello Barbie" at $75 features speech recognition, so children can have a two-way conversations.

Hasbro's StarLily My Magical Unicorn, responds to voice and touch with more than 100 sound and motion combinations. 

"You want to make sure that you give them enough that they're going to want to walk away from their iPads and phones," said Geoff Walker, the executive vice president of Mattel – the nation's largest toy company – tells the Associated Press.

Juli Lennett, senior vice president of the US toys division at The NPD Group points to certain events that will likely make sales performance in the toy industry even better as the year closes. “with the movie releases of Minions and "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" falling in the second half, and continued momentum from "Jurassic World," "Avengers: Age of Ultron," and others, licensed toys will continue to invigorate toy sales,” Ms. Lennett says.

The only catch is, these smart toys don't come cheap. For example, the LightSaber from Hasbro, which features motion sensor -controlled sound effects, costs $199.99.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this article.

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