Stacy Leistner, vice president for communications for the Toy Industry Association in New York, said manufacturers are looking for "a bit of an uptick" from last year.
"Even through the recession, the toy industry held very steady," Leistner said in a phone interview.
In 2009, toy sales grew everywhere except the United States, United Kingdom and Spain. That likely will change. The United Kingdom reported an 8 percent increase in sales for the first eight months of this year, NPD Group reported.
A recent NPD research report concluded the recent recession had only limited impact on toy sales, except for prompting consumers to hold off until December for their purchases, looking for value rather than shifting to less expensive toys.
"Consumers made personal sacrifices rather than disappoint their children," the report said.
NPD said 61 percent of consumers expect to spend what they did last year this season, with 9 percent saying they plan to spend more. At the same time, 44 percent of consumers said they plan to comparison shop before making any purchases and fully a third planned to use circulars, ads and online research -- all strategies for eliminating impulse buying. Sixty percent said price will be the determining factor in their purchases -- and toys came in second only to clothing on people's shopping lists.
"Even though the recession is technically over, lingering concerns are keeping consumers in a cautious frame of mind," said Marshal Cohen, chief toy industry analyst for NPD. "We are seeing what I call 'calculated consumption,' and I believe that it is a consumer mindset that will be around after holiday shopping is over."
Overall IBISWorld Inc. is forecasting a 1.8 percent uptick in all holiday sales and the National Retail Federation predicting a 2.3 percent jump. Holiday sales make up nearly 20 percent of overall annual sales.
Much of the action in the $22 billion U.S. toy industry -- about a quarter of the worldwide total -- is expected to be in the $20 or less category. In fact, affordability has been a key trend in the last couple of years.
"In action figures you're going to see a higher level of detail at lower prices," Leistner said. "As the economy starts to rebound, some products at moderate prices points ($40 to $50) will begin to move and we're seeing some interest at higher price points ($100) starting to come back.
"People are willing to pay more for play value -- we call it pennies per play, a high repeatability factor … Families are looking for things they can do together."
The key to the industry, he said, is innovation and that's been building annually. So many toys have electronic components these days, it's getting more difficult to track electronic toys as a separate category.
At the toy industry trade show earlier this month, squishy little creatures called Squinkies were being touted as hot sellers this season along with Zoobles, curled up plastic balls that spring open for play. Last year's Zhu Zhu pets are so last year, The Dallas Morning News reported, with the company now offering puppies to complement the original hamsters in the rocking cradle along with new princess and ninja playsets.
Time to Play magazine lists Air Hogs Moto Frenzy as the top toy this season. The magazine recommends the $24.99 toy for boys at least 8 years of age. Second on the list are $49.99 Disney Princess & Me Dolls, followed by Hot Wheels R/C Stealth Rides ($24.99), Leapster Explorer ($69.99) and LEGO Games ($24.99).
Leistner said in addition to affordability, consumers are looking for toys that promote active play -- both body and mind -- toys that travel well and items that help children learn about such things as charitable giving and the environment.
The industry also is promoting its safety standards, which were codified by Congress in 2008. Since then, Leistner said, the number of recalls has been falling. Last year's statistics indicate recalls were down about a third from 2008, amounting to a minuscule percentage of the total. And stories about lead levels in toys made in China have had little impact, Leistner said.
"Anyone selling a toy in the United States must follow the standard requirements," he said. "The toys available now are safer than they have ever been."