AI Pictionary and a ‘robo-dog’ make UK shops’ hottest Christmas toy lists | Retail industry

A new version of Pictionary that pits artist against artificial intelligence and a pet “robo-dog” with a wagging tail are among the toys destined to appear on Christmas lists this year as retailers pray for better sales during the key festive trading period.

With the cost of living crisis looming large over another year’s celebrations, the Toy Retailers Association’s annual DreamToys list of the 20 “hottest” gifts includes a dozen that are under £50. Among them is Pictionary vs AI (£24), a new version of the classic board game that pitches (terrible) human sketches against the might of AI processing power.

The cheapest toy is a £9 Squishmallow with the popular soft toys expected to sell in huge quantities again this year. At £90, one of the pricier options is “Dog-E”. With more than 200 sounds and reactions it is claimed to take “the world of robotic pets to a whole new level”.

Squishmallows proved a Christmas hit in 2022. Photograph: James Manning/PA

Acknowledging that money is tight for many Britons, Paul Reader, chair of the selection committee, said the list focused on “hero” toys but there were products to “suit everybody’s budget”. The average toy sold last Christmas cost £13 and he said the figure would be roughly the same this year.

However, the industry is battling weak consumer confidence. Over one-third of Britons expect Christmas to be more expensive this year, according to a poll out this week. As a result, nearly one in five has already started buying gifts to spread the cost, according to the Barclays research, while 14% have spoken to loved ones to agree to cut back on gift-giving.

Against this backdrop Reader said independent toy stores were witnessing more demand for their Christmas savings clubs which allow customers to spread the cost by putting money aside regularly. “There’s been more product put into savings clubs,” he said.

The gloomy economic picture is bad news for retailers who have had a year to forget already, with the number of games, dolls and action figures sold in the first 10 months of the year down by 8% on 2022 levels. Sales are running down by 5%.

MINTiD’s Dog-E Interactive Robot Dog.
MINTiD’s Dog-E Interactive Robot Dog. Photograph: DreamToys/PA

Reader said the industry hope was that a strong finish to the year would let retailers at least match last year’s sales. Analysts, however, are gloomier about its prospects with the tough trading conditions reflected in the fact some of the items on the list are already being discounted.

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There is still time to make up lost ground, however, with £1bn forecast be spent on toys between now and Christmas Eve, according to data company Circana. As many toys are sold in each week of December as in a normal month.

For parents trying to satisfy fickle tastes the list features evergreen names such as Lego, Barbie and Pokémon and after last year’s runaway success, Squishmallows, the squidgy, huggable pillows-with-a-face that became a viral sensation on TikTok.

The toys range in price from an £9 to the £150 Harry Potter Hogwarts castle Lego set. Other pricey options include the £90 experiment-themed “Beast Lab”, where would-be scientists unleash a shark play figure from a tank.

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