Spielwarenmesse: Insights Into Children & Toys – Part 1

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Insights Into Children & Toys – Part 1

from Steve Reece

Looking at the modern phenomenon of 'Toy Stockpiling'

This is the 1st of 3 articles looking at children and toys – taking a consumer perspective on factors affecting our industry. Generally we as toy companies are very focused on our internal issues and our customers, sometimes at the detriment of the consumer experience. This series will look at critical trends/factors we need to be aware of in terms of how children see and interact with their toys.

It’s now 16 years since I first market researched toy products with children. Lately I’ve been reflecting on what has changed and what has not since I began. One of THE major trends/changes clearly identifiable is ‘Toy Stockpiling’. Children today generally own significantly more toys today than they did back then. 

On several recent consumer research projects (conducted primarily in the UK) we have had parents tour us round their children’s toy collections, usually to be found in their bedrooms or in some other designated ‘playroom’.  To try to bring this to life, imagine if you can a wardrobe with clothes hanging up, packed with toys up from the bottom to where the clothes hang, with yet more toys on the top of the wardrobe, under the bed, and spread round the room – we entered rooms so full of toy products that they were nearly spilling out of the room!

So while we often hear of issues and threats to the toy industry i.e. tablets and other media, manufacturing price inflation, retail customers under pressure etc., there is a serious and positive reality we must consider – children have literally never had more toys, so they must be buying them from somewhere! 

There are several factors driving the Toy Stockpiling effect: 

  1. Despite the financial turmoil and recessions of the last years, overall global toy demand has not been significantly affected (although it has been in some suffering markets, overall it has not). The toy industry is often described as ‘recession proof’, (although the more accurate phrase would be ‘recession resistant’ as while toys still sell, toy companies can’t avoid the macro climate in terms of struggling retailers/failing retailers, cash/finance scarcity and other factors). We are seeing this recession resistance in terms of huge toy ownership when we conduct research in homes, children do not appear to have suffered from lack of presents/toy supply despite the global financial crisis!
  2. Toy pricing stagnation – while we have seen a surge in high price toys in the past few years, we have also seen pricing on lower priced toys i.e. €19.99 or less that has remained much the same for years in most markets or has even fallen. The bottom line is that at least partly due to ongoing pressure and price promotion/discounting on pricing by retailers, the toy industry has not seen substantial price inflation in terms of consumer pricing. Despite the pain this lack of price rises may have caused toy companies, the reality is toys have never been so affordable – whereas once upon a time a toy was a special occasional thing for a child to receive, it is now a much easier, impulse purchase when looking at price points below €19.99 or €9.99 in many markets.
  3. Increased product quality, durability and robust engineering – it’s clear that our industry gets ever better at delivering quality at a mass market price level. Partly due to the huge amount of QA regulation and standards we have to meet, and partly due to ever greater expertise in terms of product design and engineering toys today are particularly well made, and in general versus when we started consumer playtesting, toys tend to last longer. Therefore while the ‘input’ to the toy collections of children continues or even increases, the rubbish pile is not as full as it once was, which further drives the ‘Toy Stockpiling’ effect.
  4. Children love tablets, and fully embrace the 21st century media they have at their disposal. While parental pressure acts to limit ‘screen time’, children have more ways of entertaining themselves in the digital world than ever before. As a result, we definitely see the effect of children having less time and less inclination to play with toys. While some children still have a ‘special’ toy, we see less time for toys and more toys to choose from – so overall the average time spent on each toy has reduced. Children own so many toys that they often can’t remember what they have, and as a result tend to have an ever growing number of toys they no longer (or perhaps ever did) play with. When we speak to parents, especially mothers, we often hear that when the parent cleans out the toy chest, the child suddenly finds long forgotten toys and adopts them as favourites for a while before forgetting them again soon after!

So what does the Toy Stockpiling phenomenon mean in practical terms for toy companies?

Parents keep on wanting their children to play with toys and to take time off from ‘screen time’. Children like toys, are influenced by advertising to want toys and (when they get round to playing with toys) find the experience fun and fulfilling. We as an industry know that children benefit in many positive ways by playing with toys, so we can justifiably keep promoting our products. 

Overall, we can be happy that this is a trend which plays to our advantage!


Author of this article:

Steve Reece, CEO Kids Brand Insight

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