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Pokemon Go frenzy boosts real-life merchandise sales

People play Pokemon Go in Hong Kong on Aug. 6, 2016.

TYRONE SIU/REUTERS

The Pokemon Go excitement may be dying down a little, but that hasn't stopped sales of merchandise from passing through registers.

Retailers and industry analysts are reporting sales of Pokemon-related merchandise, be it plush characters, clothing, movies or console video games, have all risen significantly since the game's initial launch on July 8.

"Looking at our toy database, in games, Pokemon is actually the number-one brand," said Michelle Liem, toy industry analyst and the NPD Group's director of client development. "They basically have 25 per cent share of all games right now. It's a big number."

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The popularity of Pokemon Go has increased sales of Pokemon merchandise and other games at stores such as EB Games, Best Buy, Walmart and HMV.

Ms. Liem said six of the top 10 items in games are Pokemon trading cards, a category that includes popular brands Uno, Monopoly and even Rubik's Cubes. "In many cases, Pokemon is outselling them or at least selling as many," she said.

According to Ms. Liem, the best-selling Pokemon trading card item is a Breakpoint Booster Box, which retails for approximately $100 (U.S.) on Amazon.

HMV spokeswoman Elyssa Macri said Pokemon apparel sales are up 64 per cent, gifts and collectibles sales (such as toys, plush and blankets) are up 150 per cent and Pokemon series and movie sales (DVDs and Blu-ray discs) are up 100 per cent since the game's launch.

Other popular items include Pokeball-themed glassware and Pikachu coin banks.

"As long as there is demand for these products we will continue to stock them in stores and online," Ms. Macri wrote in an e-mail.

GameStop, the parent company of Canadian games retailer EB Games, saw sales double the week after the release of Pokemon Go in the United States. In an interview with CNBC, chief executive J. Paul Raines said more than 460 stores are designated as PokeGyms where players can pick up supplies.

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Mr. Raines also said sales of Pokemon merchandise at Gamestop were up "significantly across the board" during what is "traditionally a slower time of the year for video gaming."

At Best Buy Canada, players have been stocking up on power and battery packs in droves. "We heard the demand loud and clear that charging on the go is really key to playing the game," spokeswoman Christine said.

She said the surge in demand for chargers was quickly apparent to Best Buy staff: players had begun asking questions about battery packs and charging their phones in stores, comments on social media were flagging the need and, of course, it was obvious even from their own playing experiences.

The company has set up a special webpage, called a "Hunting Kit Hub" featuring "catcher's essentials": items such as backpacks, chargers, cellphone accessories, USB cables, iTunes gift cards (for buying Pokecoins), water bottles, fitness trackers, trading cards and even Pokemon branded hats. However, Best Buy's inventory of the Pokemon Go Plus wearable device and all of its Pokemon character plushes are currently sold out.

"The hype has been insane for them," said Christine Tam, a Best Buy spokesperson.

The company has ordered 80,000 more power chargers and power banks to the 30,000 currently available in store and online, but Ms. Tam could not confirm how many more this is compared with normal volumes.

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"We are definitely committed to the Pokemon Go craze," she said.

As for the future, Ms. Liem said for Pokemon to be a successful, long-term trend in toys, games, apparel and other merchandise like Frozen, Star Wars or Angry Birds, it will need to do a lot of things right. This includes continuing the level of engagement with players and sales of items such as trading cards, and the strategy the Pokemon Company takes to roll out collectibles and higher-price point objects aimed at adults.

"With Star Wars there was huge interest in the $50-and-up price point," she said, noting the popularity of the Kylo Ren Lightsaber by Hasbro and the Millennium Falcon Lego set, both retailing in the $200 range.

If Pokemon becomes as successful as Frozen or even Star Wars, there's money to be made even outside of the app. Ms. Liem pointed to Frozen as a great example of a new brand being enormously successful in the country's $2-billion toy industry even two years after the movie's release. "Nobody knew it was going to be that big," she said.

According to Ms. Liem, Star Wars sold almost $100-million in toys and other merchandise in Canada last year following the release of the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And the film increased sales by 115 per cent.

By comparison, Frozen sold about half that in 2015 and sales were up 13 per cent year over year.

"They still had good growth," she said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Best Buy spokesperson Christine Tam's full name and position.

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