From Board Games to Toothbrushes, Five Holiday Hits You’d Never Expect

What was hot during Holiday 2016? It’s a question brands and retailers all want to answer as they reflect on the holiday’s successes and misses in preparation for Holiday 2017. Our research team was particularly interested in understanding which products sold substantially faster during Holiday 2016 compared to Holiday 2015. So we took a look at our Store-Level Enabled data for the six-week period from Black Friday through the end of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015. We focused on velocity per item as our main metric, while also taking into consideration volume, dollar growth, and changes in distribution and assortment. Read on to find out which products sold fastest in Holiday 2016.

But First: Velocity

It’s not just how much you’re selling; it’s how fast. Velocity measures how fast something sells. By capturing store-level data feeds directly from retailers, we’re able to measure velocity, which tells you the rate at which products are selling for a better measure of performance than sales or share. And we can report velocity below a national level, so you can monitor sales by retailer, region, or market. We used the velocity per item metric to identify some of the fastest-selling products during Holiday 20161.

1. Adult Games

Did your New Year’s Eve culminate in a rousing game of Speak Out!, or was it just us? If you thought board games were dead—think again. Whether it’s nostalgia for simpler times or a sweet escape from our world of screens, games are in vogue. The adult games category experienced a 138-percent increase in velocity per item (twice that of any other toys category) in Holiday 2016. Not only was this category fast-turning—it also experienced significant year-over-year dollar growth, had a slight increase in distribution, and saw a large increase in assortment.

Juli Lennett, our senior vice president and toys industry analyst, vouched for games/puzzles as the fastest-growing toy super category of 2016. “Games are HOT; the segment grew 21 percent in 2016, and 12 of the 13 games subclasses grew in 2016,” said Juli. She attributes this trend to Americans’ desire for fun experiences, especially when they can be shared with friends and family via social media. One of the most talked about toys, and the best-selling adult game, was Speak Out!, whose success was driven by YouTube. If you’re not familiar with this game, we strongly encourage you to check it out.

Adult games grew in many markets, but among the top 25 markets based on sales, the category turned the fastest in Boston for the second year in a row. Given the number of colleges and universities in Boston, this trend points to the powerful impact of Boston’s Millennials. Our data suggests retailers consider stocking up on more adult games in this market next holiday—or in any market with a high population of young adults, since games seem to be a big hit with this cohort.

2. Portable Beverageware

When it comes to affordable and useful holiday gifts, you can’t go wrong with portable beverageware. We’re talking insulated bottles, water canteens, tumblers, and more. Home Industry Analyst and Executive Director Joe Derochowski explained that many Americans turned to portable beverageware for gifts in Holiday 2016, to help friends and family be healthier. During the holiday season, it was among the top housewares categories in both dollar sales and growth over 2015 holiday levels. The category also experienced a 14-percent increase in velocity per item from the six-week holiday period in 2015 to 2016.

Portable beverageware certainly makes for a useful and practical gift for anyone. Perhaps you’ve received a water bottle or travel mug that’s become your daily accessory. Maybe it has a logo of a favorite brand, place visited, or university, or maybe it’s customized. Perhaps it simply keeps the contents hot or cold for hours, or perhaps it’s eco-friendly. Whatever the case, everyone needs to drink fluids, so portable beverageware works for everyone.

Which Americans are stocking up on these products? The South Census Region has demonstrated tremendous growth in portable beverageware compared to other regions. It experienced 80 percent year-over-year holiday sales growth. The Central, Northeast, and West Census Regions only increased 27 percent, 16 percent, and 10 percent respectively. And when considering velocity per item, regional growth is even more disparate: the South increased portable beverageware velocity per item by 40 percent from Holiday 2015 to 2016. In contrast, the Central U.S. was relatively flat, and the Northeast and West showed declines.

Though portable beverageware's Holiday 2015 velocity per item in the South lagged far behind other regions, velocity per item is now comparable across all U.S. Census Regions, indicating the South jumping on the hydration bandwagon and catching up to the rest of the country. Retailers should consider increasing assortment of these products next holiday season—and even more so in dryer, hotter, U.S. regions.

3. Electric Toothbrushes

Another aspect of health consumers looked for in their Holiday 2016 shopping related to oral hygiene. The electric toothbrush stood out in the small domestic appliance category with its increased velocity per item of 11 percent from Holiday 2015 to 2016. Joe Derochowski also called out the electric toothbrush for having the highest dollar growth in the personal care category during Holiday 2016. Similar to portable beverageware, it’s one that gives the gift of health. What’s more, Americans may not be willing to splurge on a nice-to-have oral care tool for themselves. That’s why it proves to be a popular gift, helping loved ones feel and look good.

As it turns out, New Englanders seem to value pearly whites more than other Americans—a trend that has increased from Holiday 2015. Electric toothbrushes turned fastest in New England during Holiday 2016—20 percent faster, to be exact—than the next closest region.  

4. Smart Entry

Smart entry products flew off the shelves during Holiday 2016—and at a greater speed than during Holiday 2015. Because what’s more important than the safety of your home and convenience for your guests during the holidays? Smart entry is gaining momentum in the U.S. market; December sales skyrocketed 161 percent, and velocity per item jumped up 96 percent from 2015 to 2016. Ben Arnold, our consumer electronics executive director and technology industry analyst, described the majority of the category’s sales and growth as driven by smart doorbells, followed by smart locks—two fairly different products with differing price points.

The holidays are a time for travel and hosting, and smart locks make it easy for guests to enter and leave hosts’ homes. Video doorbells even allow home owners to see and speak with visitors from anywhere, anytime. While it may be difficult to get someone the doorbell of their dreams as a gift, smart entry products proved popular as self-gifts this past holiday. In Holiday 2016, San Antonio residents went crazy for smart entry compared to last holiday. Among the top 25 markets based on smart entry sales, the San Antonio DMA was 11th in terms sales, and it had the fastest-turning—and fastest-growing—smart entry product velocity per item.

5. Automotive Booster Packs

Automotive Director and Industry Analyst Nathan Shipley said road safety proved a popular gift category in Holiday 2016. U.S. shoppers got excited about automotive booster packs that quickly start a vehicle in emergency situations. One of the top-turning products in the automotive aftermarket category, the booster pack increased its velocity per item by 50 percent during Holiday 2016 compared to the prior holiday.  An increase in promotions along with weather more likely to cause dead batteries drove this trend.

If you’ve ever left your car’s headlights on all day and parked in a low-traffic area, you know the feeling of being stranded and desperately seeking out a stranger to jumpstart your car. So for friends and family on the road a lot, these booster packs make for a practical gift. Many of these packs fit right in a car’s glove compartment.

Though the New England Census Division was the smallest in terms of booster pack dollar volume in Holiday 2015 and 2016, it experienced the highest velocity per item in Holiday 2016 and highest velocity growth (72 percent) from 2015 levels.


These were just some of the fast-turning products of Holiday 2016 across the toys, home, and tech industries. For more information on how you can use velocity to better measure performance for your categories, retailers, regions, or territories, contact your NPD account representative, call 866-444-1411, or email

[1]Holiday is defined as the six weeks encompassing Black Friday and Christmas for all industries except tech, which uses the month of December.

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