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31 Jan – 4 Feb 2018
Spielwarenmesse®: If people want to make a statement about their own lifestyle, their preferred means of communication is clothes, consumer behaviour and beliefs. Do parents and other adult consumers make similar statements through their choice of toys?
Gabriela Kaiser: They certainly do. Toys are also a part of our lifestyle and reflect who we are or would like to be. While children are still small, parents determine which toys in their opinion are best for their little ones. Children are often not of the same opinion.
I find ecological, sustainable wooden toys, particularly unpainted ones, a good example. I think children’s toys of this kind are great, but what I experienced with my own children is that they headed straight for the brightly coloured plastic toys. People, and children are no exception, mostly long for what they haven’t got.
That’s the reason why I argue for offering toddlers in particular a range of very different materials, shapes and colours so that they can express their sensory experience in all aspects.
When children start going to school they’ve reached the age when belonging to a group plays an important role. This doesn’t mean that parents should buy all the toys that are a great hit with children at that particular time, but it’s important to deal with the issue and explain to them that you don’t want to, or can’t, follow every trend.
Can you see patterns here that allow you to create a typology of consumer behaviour?
GK: Typologising is always rather problematic because there are lots of hybrid categories and if you pigeonhole people you can get the assessment wrong. However, when we go shopping, there are a few things that we regard as important today.
Precisely when people are buying for toddlers, what is noticeable is that the “eco aspect” and traceable local manufacturing are on the increase – the "new eco" type. For my child, I buy ecologically immaculate products because I don’t want to expose my child to health risks and damage the environment, and I want to have a clear conscience.
Then there’s the “high-tech aspect“, that in the case of fathers in particular is a powerful influence. All products with integrated technology have great appeal. Examples are Lego-Technic, programmable mini-robots and remote controlled helicopters. Toys like these are also wish fulfilment for fathers.
With lots of mothers it’s more the “creative aspect” that’s important. They look for products that don’t present children with prefabricated, inflexible toys but are products where they can design and change things for themselves. Multi-optional toys are ideal. Lego and wooden building blocks are the classics, but also any toy that has a modular structure and therefore allows children to create shapes for themselves. Next we find that the "individualisation aspect" is a mega-trend in this day and age. Belonging to a group is important for children. Adults want to be seen as unique individuals and they like most of all to surround themselves with products that have been created, as it were, especially for them. But they’re also satisfied with stamping their own identity on a mass product. Therefore they find toys with the name of their child on them great – there are wooden building blocks on which you can have the initials of your child printed, teething rings with name beads, and personalised wooden bowling sets that have the letters of a child’s name on the pins. Today, you can even have an individual three-dimensional doll made from a child’s drawing and, thanks to 3D technology, a lot more quite different possibilities will soon be available.
Today "mobility" is another significant mega trend. That’s why last year we on the TrendCommittee identified the trend "Mini is King". These days we’re on the move a great deal and we mostly have the children with us. So what are needed are toys that I can take with me everywhere – even if it’s only to a restaurant to fill in the time until the food arrives. And when you are out and about in the car or on the train children want something to pass the time, and for that there has to be more than a Nintendo or iPad.
There’s quite an interesting phenomenon that may not have been picked up on the radar of this or that toy retailer – it’s the young adults who today apparently no longer really want to grow up and whose motto is "forever young". Young people are living longer at home with their parents. Childhood has been extended, and becoming adult often doesn’t really begin any more when they are 18. Young adults are playing longer with gamers for children. Although the razor Crazy Cart was developed for children over the age of nine, when you look at videos on YouTube, you see mainly young adults having a lot of fun with it. In cities like Los Angeles, young adults hang guerilla swings on, for example, bridges. Or they play Crossboccia in the cities on steps and other "impossible" places.
I’m sure those are not all the aspects, but on platforms like the TrendGallery at Spielwarenmesse® you can see which trends, among other things, are important in the toy category.
What should a toy retailer do to successfully address these aspects of demand on the part of his customers?
GK: I think it’s always important to make it as simple as possible for customers. Today, we all feel we can’t cope with the mass of products and possibilities and we look for
structures that help us to find our way. So I can imagine that in the travel season retailers in their shops don’t arrange their products under board games, Lego, Playmobil, and Outdoor but create islands displaying all the games that are good to play on journeys in the car, plane or train.
A bricks-and-mortar retailer could perhaps get together with a small manufacturer that he finds online via dawanda.com so that he can offer individualised toys that carry, for example, specific names.
I also find invitations to events both good and important – such as a games evening for men or young adults. Maybe retailers can occasionally arrange a games evening or launch a modified version of classics like Monopoly, where everyone can explain to the others the rules he plays by – many games are not played by the original rules. This may lead to other people getting ideas about how to play an old game in a different way. Another possibility is the retailer offering an evening for trialling new games.
Especially important today is personal contact with goods and events, because that’s precisely what an online shop can’t offer.