Commentary

Toy Industry's Biggest Challenge May Be Coming Thanks To Pandemic

The toy industry has certainly seen its challenges over the last 18 months.  First it was the elimination of Toys 'R’ Us, then it was delays in manufacturing while China battled COVID-19.   

Things have been looking brighter recently, as desperate homebound moms buy toys to help entertain their children.  However, as retailers begin to open their doors and the holiday sales season looms, toy companies may face their biggest challenge to date: the absence of children on Mom’s next shopping trip to big-box retailers.

In a recent survey of over 900 moms across America, 88% of moms said they do not plan to take their children into stores with them when their state lifts stay-at-home orders.   

Why are childless shopping sprees so bad for retailers and toy makers alike?  They eliminate not only impulse toy purchases produced from the nag factor, but also eliminates the discovery or research process in the mom’s journey to purchase toys as gifts for her child.   

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Kids in the toy aisle plead and cry out for the shiniest new toy. No nag factor equals lower sales. 

Then we turn our attention to the gatekeeper: Mom.  Eighty-three percent of mothers, according to research, want to feel confident that the toys they’re purchasing will keep their child’s attention for longer than the car ride home.  One way they evaluate a toy, aside from reading reviews and taking the recommendation of Instagram friends, is watching their child interact with the toy.  

A stroll down the toy aisle allows Mom the opportunity to do this -- and, for the benefit of toy brands, sometimes results in an impulse purchase of some under $10 collectible.  A mom without a child means the reduction of toy observation time by the mom AND the elimination of the impulse purchase. 

The research also asked moms about anticipated changes to their in-store shopping behaviors post-pandemic. Seventy-eight percent of moms surveyed indicated that they expected to keep their shopping trips short and focused on essentials. This means limited side trips down the toy aisle.   

Finally, moms pointed to loss of income and uncertain economic climate as two factors that would require them to rethink some of their spending even when stores reopen their doors.  Just another factor certain to affect toy sales this year. 

So what steps can toy makers take to head off these challenges?  They must do what they do best: turn to new bells and whistles and think outside the box. Toy brands should turn to new ways to engage moms and kids which allow them to interact with their toys.  Leveraging influencers to host in-home playdates that allow kids to touch and play with the hottest new toy while moms look on is just one way.  It might also include product demonstrations in driveways and cul-de-sacs, or the seamless integration of social media with platforms that really matter to moms like Walmart.com, Amazon and Target.com. 

Now is the time for toy makers to be as innovative with their marketing as they are with their new products.  With a little creativity and strategic thinking, toy makers have the opportunity to navigate the shift in family toy buying that’s headed their way.

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