Top toys 20 years ago and now

Metal toy cars are perennial favourites. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
Metal toy cars are perennial favourites. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK 

A lot has changed in the world of toys in the past 20 years, but one item maintains its hold on children's hearts: Hot Wheels cars.

"They are a simple toy but they are a fabulous toy," says Warehouse toy buyer Lonnica Van Engelen, of the classic collectible, which features in the toy department's top 10 sellers now, as it did 20 years ago.

Also wildly popular in the late 90s were Tamagotchis, Polly Pockets and the boardgame Operation. While Operation is still around and Polly Pockets are due to make a return to shelves later this year, Tamagotchis have been superseded by technology. 

Children who once would have spent hours tending their virtual pet will now spend hours on the iPad.

Van Engelen says the market for collectible toys, driven in part by the YouTube craze for unboxing videos, has grown "exponentially" in recent years. Children watch their favourite YouTubers build massive collections of toys, and they want to do that too. 

The most popular of these young superstars is American 7-year-old Ryan of ToysReview, who has been opening and playing with toys in front of a camera since he was three. He now makes an estimated $16 million a year, and his last name and location are kept secret to protect him. 

Ryan has reviewed Hot Wheels twice in the past year, racking up 3.4 million views for a post from two months ago, and 13 million views for a video posted seven months ago.

Many of his most popular videos (the ones snagging up to 890 million views) feature the word "surprise" in the title. 

Sonya Brooks, a toy buyer and owner of Toy Fest in Christchurch NZ, says surprise is a key element of a toy's success. The same delight that previous generations got from lucky dips is ignited in children who open an LOL Surprise, Smooshy Mushy Mystery Pack or Lost Kitties Blind Box – all top sellers, and all popular YouTube searches.
Children love the mystery element of LOL Surprise. Photo: Supplied

"Even a year ago we didn't have this many collectibles in the top 10," says Van Engelen. "I think it comes down to children at a party. Children love to watch other children open presents. They are learning different ways to play."

Brooks has also noticed a return to quality toys that will be passed from one generation to the next, a reaction to all the plastic that comes with toys. Toys that inspire role play, like dolls and prams, are riding a wave of popularity.

Of Hot Wheels she says, "You can't go past good old cars. I remember the first time my son picked up a car and put it on the floor and went vroom. He'd never had a vehicle, it's innate."

TOP TOYS 2018 (in no particular order)

Zuru 5 Surprise Ball
LOL Surprise Confetti Pop
Hot Wheels basic cars
LEGO Millennium Falcon
Play-doh single tub
Smooshy Mushy Mystery Pack
Lost Kitties Blind Box
Monopoly Here and Now
Zuru Schnooks Plush Series 2

TOP TOYS 1998 (in no particular order)

Brick Game 9 in 1
Chatter Rings
Pro Yo II
Hot Wheels basic cars
Barbie Picnic Van
Super Soaker
Polly Pocket
Magna Doodle

SOURCE: The Warehouse

 - Stuff