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Licensed Sales

A Decade in Review: Hindsight is 20/20

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As the 2010s wrap up, The Licensing Letter is taking the chance to review the last ten years. In terms of licensed retail sales, the story of the last decade is one of recovery from the impact of the Great Recession of 2007–2009, which directly resulted in a -11.5% decline in licensed retail sales in 2009 in the U.S. and Canada.

Although most segments of the business have since then recovered, the process of doing so has not left the industry without seismic shifts. Most notably, American and Canadian consumers have not returned to the department stores and high-end shopping malls that promised high profits to licensing executives in the beginning of the decade before the crash. Instead, consumers have turned to fast fashion chains, discounters, hypermarkets, and warehouse clubs promising low, low prices for short-lived experiences.

Over the last decade spanning 2009 through 2018, dollar/value/off-price retailers have seen licensed retail sales increase by 85.2%, second only to ecommerce/online retail distribution channels (up 270.9%) in the U.S. and Canada. Grocery and drug stores have perhaps had the most unprecedented growth spurt from the perspective of a licensing executive hailing from the Aughts, with 30.8% growth. Discount and mass retailers saw 17.7% growth in licensed retail sales during that same period.

With the exception of the 1980s—the first decade for which TLL has complete licensed retail sales data, during which licensed retail sales grew by an estimated 552.5%—the Teens enjoyed the fastest rate of growth in licensed retail sales in the U.S. and Canada compared to prior decades.

Including preliminary estimates, North American licensed retail sales jumped 26.9% between the years 2011 and 2019—or $23.9 billion—compared to 25.4% in the span of the 2000s ($18.8 billion) and 11.5% in the 1990s (a mere $7.7 billion).

While the Teens enjoyed relatively stable growth (averaging 2.0% growth year-over-year, with a range of 9.2 percentage points), the Aughts were more volatile with 3.3% average growth and 63.6 percentage point range. On the other hand, the 1990s enjoyed slower 1.5% average growth but a more stable narrow 11.6 percentage point difference between its highest and lowest growth rates.

The bulk of retail sales growth in the last decade can be attributed to corporate trademarks/brands, which surged in retail sales value by nearly $5.4 billion between the 10-year period of 2009 and 2018. Compared to other major property types, corporate-based brands did not decline as steeply in 2009 (-7.0% dip in licensed retail sales), with most losses attributable to high-end distribution channels. The property type performed well in subsequent years thanks to a greater presence in discount and mid-tier retailers.

Fashion-based brands contributed $4 billion in retail sales, but nearly half of that total represents merely a recovery to previous 2008 sales levels after a -13.0% decline in 2009. Sports-based brands similarly jumped $3.6 billion in value, recovering from a dramatic -17.0% dip in sales attributable to the Great Recession.

From the product category perspective, the largest sectors by increase in licensed retail sales over the last decade were apparel (up by $6.8 billion), food/beverages ($5.1 billion), and accessories ($2.2 billion).

In the aftermath of the 2008 crash, apparel sales were down -13.1% and accessories down -13.5% in the U.S. and Canada, with most of the loss attributable to high- and mid-tier fashion items. In the intervening years, the bulk of growth in licensed retail sales activity has been focused in low- and mid-tier product lines; limited high-end “capsule collections” are increasingly being used by licensors as purely brand awareness and marketing rather than revenue-drivers.

Global apparel, accessories, and footwear sales have jumped 28.9% in value between the years 2011 and 2019, or roughly $16.6 billion. Although half of that total was gained from sales in the U.S. and Canada, the property types are some of the fastest-growing across all the major territories TLL tracks worldwide, despite the fact that they also tend to comprise the largest share of licensed retail sales in any given territory.

Licensed food and beverages shrank by only -4.9% in 2009, and enjoyed swift growth thereafter in the U.S. and Canada. This is one of the few product categories in which the average price of goods increased over the last decade, with consumers sacrificing big ticket luxury items in favor of everyday, edible comforts and overall health/wellness.

Consumer electronics sales were up 44.2% over the Teens, or just under $1.8 billion. As the price of production has gone down over the last decade, a significant area of growth has been higher-quality children’s electronics.
Toy and game sales jumped 15.8%, or over $1.0 billion, over the last decade spanning 2009 to 2018. The U.S. and Canada saw a somewhat higher rate of growth than the rest of the world; global licensed sales of toys/interactive games were up 14.1%, or $2.4 billion, in the years spanning 2011 through 2019.

This trend is expected to reverse quickly in the early half of the next decade.
On the other hand, stationery/paper, video games/software, and gifts/novelties all shrank in value by just over $700 million in licensed retail sales value. These property types never fully recovered from the Great Recession—retail sales of licensed stationery/paper were down -14.8% in 2009, video games/software was down -17.1%, and gifts/novelties was down -16.3% compared to the previous year.

All three of these product categories are expected to continue to grow over the next couple of years, albeit at a pace that is not immediately expected to recover to record sales levels.


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