Barbie fighting to keep her crown as global sales for the doll continues to slide

Life in plastic has not been so fantastic for Barbie.

The blonde, blue-eyed American doll who looks ageless at 55 has seen its popularity fade as its global sales dropped by 21 per cent for the three months ended Sept 30. This fall is sharper than the 15 per cent drop in the previous three months and it marks the fourth straight double-digit decline.

The plunge in sales was reported by Barbie's maker, Mattel, on Thursday, as the toy company gears up for the crucial holiday season.

While Barbie remains the largest doll brand in the world, with sales of about US$1 billion (S$1.27 billion) in the past four quarters, its slide has come on the heels of stiff competition from new toys.

One source of threat: the Disney Princess and Ever After High dolls by Mattel. These dolls were credited for the one per cent increase in sales of other Mattel doll brands in the recent quarter.

Barbie's target audience, young girls, have also been gravitating to other dolls made by Mattel such as Monster High and those based on the hit Disney movie Frozen.

Toys better attuned with how kids are playing, such as dress-up and role-play sets, have also led retail chain Target to cut shelf space devoted to Barbie said Target's spokesman Jill Hornbacher in a report by the Wall Street Journal.

A higher price point than some of its competitors has not helped boost its appeal either. The Wall Street Journal reported that a Funville Sparkle Girlz princess doll was selling for US$4.97 at a Wal-Mart store in Kearny, New Jersey, in the United States, while a Barbie Fashionista doll was priced at US$7.97.

This is not the first time sales of Barbie has suffered tough competition. In 2008, Bratz dolls and the Disney Princess line threatened to dethrone the iconic doll. A makeover that included giving Barbie 12 movable joints and a more stylish wardrobe, however, reversed the slide; sales rose by double digits.

This time, Mattel says it is working to improve the quality of Barbie and offer more accessories. Barbie may not yet ride out into the sunset in her pink Porsche.