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Terapeak Trends: Helicopters and Quadcopters are the Hot Radio Control Toys This Year

By Aron Hsiao  on December 04, 2014

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, everyone in e-commerce is busy studying which toys are the hottest sellers this year. There are lots of perennial and obvious favorites in most of the top lists, including Lego blocks and sets, Disney Frozen toys, video games and consoles, and so on. Toys like these are always hot and require no comment.

Quadcopters are a relatively new radio control genre, but they are trending strongly this holiday season. (Image: © Doodybutch / CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Our interest was piqued, however, by the fact that radio control helicopters are trending strongly in eBay sales. These are a relatively new genre of toys for the mass market. For decades, classic radio control helicopters actually required combustible fuel and were difficult to pilot and maintain—and thus for hobbyists only and relatively rare sellers for those reasons.

It's only in recent years that advances in precision manufacturing and battery technology have made no-hassle, plug-and-play versions of these toys possible and suitable for mainstream use. Over the same time period, quadcopters (which are increasingly overlapping with small "drones" as a category) have also become common toys and hobbyist items.

We decided to see just how the radio control toy market is evolving—to see what the hottest radio control toys are this year, and how radio control helicopters fare against presumably more common radio control toys like cars and trucks. Here's what we found.

Unit Sales by Radio Control Genre

We looked at eight kinds of radio control toys, broadly speaking, and their sales from the beginning of summer through the end of November.

  • Radio control cars

  • Radio control trucks

  • Radio control airplanes

  • Radio control helicopters

  • Radio control quadcopters

  • Radio control tanks

  • Radio control boats

  • Radio control robots

Here are the unit sales numbers that we found.

Radio control cars remain top-of-list, but helicopters are very popular, too.

Around 1.2 million units have been sold on eBay across all of these categories combined since the end of June.

Radio control cars remain the most popular items, reaching about 19 thousand units over a two week period by the end of November, but helicopters make a very strong showing—and are trending much more strongly over the start of the holiday shopping season.

Quadcopters are also trending strongly, having seen more or less continuous growth over the entire period and leading into the holidays, becoming the third most common seller on the list by the end of November. Nearly 11,000 units were sold during the two-week period ending on November 29th.

To make growth trends easier to visualize and compare, we also charted growth as a percentage of period minimums for each kind of toy. This enables us to see the slope of each toy's chart overlaid with the others.

Quadcopters have seen the strongest growth and holiday surge.

Plotted this way, it's much easier to see that quadcopters and robots have been the niches with the most room for new sellers this holiday season. Tanks and helicopters come up next; cars, trucks, and boats have seen the growth relative to historical norms.

Sales Proportions

We also wanted a nice visual demonstration of just how big each selling market is relative to the others, so we plotted sales percentages (of the total group), both in terms of dollars and in terms of units

Radio control cars are still the biggest part of the radio control market.

This chart shows that in terms of both unit sales and dollar volume, radio control cars remain the toy of choice for many. Helicopters, however, make a very good showing. Quadcopters are still behind planes, trucks, and boats in terms of overall unit volume, but their higher per-item cost mean that they're in second place in terms of dollar volume.

It also means more room for seller profit margins, meaning—in combination with the growth numbers shown above—that this is an interesting segment of the radio control market for sellers to watch.We thought we'd finish with a big-picture look at the radio control market, so we measured the dollar volume of the entire eBay category, and compared this year's sales data to last year's.

Radio control toys experienced a 14 percent year-over-year sales volume increase, in dollar terms. It's a growing market.

Radio Control Vehicles Overall

While the period from December 2012 through November 2013 saw total radio control sales of around $65 million, the period from December 2013 through November 2014 saw total sales of just over $74 million, a 14 percent increase, and the reason why radio control toys—helicopters and quadcopters in particular—are appearing on Christmas lists, both of the "hot trends" variety and of the "what I want this year" variety.

With battery and electronics technology continuing to improve and drones and remotely controlled flying vehicles ever more a part of public discourse and imagination, it's easy to think that some of this growth will continue into next year and beyond, as both kids and hobbyists experiment with the capabilities and possibilities that today's radio control toys increasingly offer.

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