The study, from NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm, says about 75% of parents decide first where to shop -- critical information for toy marketers as the winter holiday season approaches. (About 50% of all toys are sold in the holiday period, NPD says.)
"A lot of purchases happen for a gift-giving occasion like Christmas and birthdays, and parents do put thought into planning what they're going to buy because they really want to make their children happy," says Anita Frazier, NPD's industry analyst for toys and games. "The economy is no doubt playing into it as well because when money gets tight, you definitely want to get it right and not buy the wrong thing."
When it comes to impulse buys in toyland, the big factor is kids themselves: Parents are more likely to buy a toy if a child asks for it, particularly if it's at a lower price point.
Overall, store location and toy pricing are the most influential factors in choosing a retailer, with close to three-quarters of shoppers saying they prefer the one-stop shopping advantages of, let's say, a Walmart over visiting specialty stores. And while they may do research online, 78% would rather buy in stores so they can evaluate the toy before purchasing it. "This identifies the need to provide those who shop online with even more user-friendly search options for online purchasing such as category listings, product reviews, recommendations and filtering options," she says.
Overall, however, Frazier expects that parents will be slightly less price-focused than last year. "Parents are still mindful of budgets, but I also think that even when times are tough -- maybe especially when times are tough -- parents really want to make their children happy," she says.
It's likely that toy marketers -- who are still feeling the pressure not just of the recession, but of widespread safety concerns and massive recalls in recent years -- will pull out all the stops as the fourth quarter progresses.
One sign that they will be thinking outside the box? Mattel's Barbie is breaking out in her first-ever dance video, choreographed by JaQuel Knight, the talent behind Beyonce's "Single Ladies" ("Put A Ring On It"). "The Barbie," a series of doll-like moves and dance grooves, is set to the 1990s hit "Barbie Girl," and is on YouTube. It's part of the launch effort for the new Barbie Fashionistas dolls, which feature 12 points of movement and "more than 100 plastic-fantastic poses."