In the wake of TRU’s mid-August decision to stop providing sales data to The NPD Group’s Toy Retail Sales Tracking Service (TRSTS), many toy industry players are wondering how they’ll get a decent read on the market in the months to come.
Esther Han, president of NPD Funworld (the unit that tracks toys and children’s entertainment), says the company will continue to measure toy sales using data from its remaining participating retailers, which include a number of mass outlets and toy stores.
But with TRU and Wal-Mart (which pulled out of TRSTS in July 2001) accounting for around 70% of all U.S. retail toy sales, the service seems likely to become a shadow of its former self. Han says NPD is assessing the long-term viability of TRSTS in its current format, and she hints that the company may focus on bolstering its consumer panel data, which is derived directly from toy consumers and therefore doesn’t depend on retailer reports.
So what do the toy manufacturers that make up a large component of NPD’s subscriber base think of all this? Both TRU and Wal-Mart provide toycos with weekly reports on POS activity for their products, so bean-counting one’s own sales should remain pretty straightforward.
The real problem lies in keeping track of how a product or merchandise line is doing compared to its competition. ‘The loss of Wal-Mart and TRU from TRSTS makes my job harder,’ says Craig Spitzer, VP of marketing research for Fisher-Price. ‘The TRSTS product has become very limited in its benefit to my company,’ he says, adding that he’s going to have to look for new ways to find total-market data since there’s no comparable service on the market. But for the time being, Fisher-Price and its parent company Mattel aren’t dropping their subscriptions to NPD (although in an e-mail statement, Mattel did say it was evaluating its options). And Spitzer is still committed to NPD’s remaining asset – its consumer panel data. He says it gives him weekly info on the toy-buying habits of thousands of consumers.
It’s no exaggeration. NPD culls its consumer panel data from web surveys that go out to 42,000 people each week. Han says more than half of the field responds, and 85% of this group submits complete surveys. From there, NPD tracks (among other things) weekly toy purchases, the age and gender of the purchaser and recipient, the relationship of the purchaser to the recipient, and where they purchased the toys. The results are compiled and published monthly.
But an executive at a medium-sized toy company says NPD’s consumer information isn’t as valuable to him as the TRSTS data. His company conducts its own focus groups and consumer market surveys, making NPD’s consumer info a bit redundant. And in the meantime, his company will have to spend a lot of time and energy internally gathering the kind of data formerly supplied by TRSTS – that includes conducting more field interviews with retailers, prodding them for info on trends and individual toy line performance, and maybe constructing a customized software program to pull it all together.
The exec is also rethinking his TRSTS subscription, adding that NPD will ultimately have to charge less for what its offering now. Whether or not that’s part of NPD’s new plan remains to be seen. Han says she expects to make an announcement on the service’s future sometime in the middle of this month.