Appy days: Will tech toys have a viable future in the UK market? - ToyNews

Appy days: Will tech toys have a viable future in the UK market?

Following NPD findings that less than one per cent of British toy sales are attributed to web-connected toys, Jade Burke talks to retailers about whether these tech-inspired products have a viable future in the UK.
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As a nation we are increasingly living our lives through app-based items, be it smart phones, tablets or even Amazon Dash buttons. 

App-connected toys are once again expected to make up at least a few presents under the tree for kids this Christmas, whether it’s Hasbro’s Furby Connect or Sphero’s app-enabled BB-8 droid and its accompanying Force Band.

However, this year’s Dream Toys list of the 12 hottest toys for this Christmas only contained one app-enhanced product - Worlds Apart’s SelfieMic - and the NPD Group has revealed that less than one per cent of British toy sales belong to the web-connected toys category. 

In comparison, more traditional toys, including construction and collectables, are witnessing further growth with value sales of collectable cards, stickers, figurines and beanies increasing by 34 per cent since 2016. 

In spite of these figures, robotics firm Sphero has continued to see growth. The company’s SR director of marketing and communications, Claire Tindall, tells ToyNews: “We’re seeing growth not only in our entertainment products, but in our educational robots as well. More and more schools are integrating our SPRK+ bots into curriculum as STEM education grows in importance.”

Similarly, Wow! Stuff CEO Richard North believes that the sector will only expand in the future, stating: “It’s inevitable this area will grow. I predict it will be the fastest growing area in toys. After all, even if it grows 100 per cent next year, it will still only represent two per cent.”

However, considering NPD’s findings, could it be that the price points for app toys are too high for consumers to embrace?

Steven Russell, senior marketing executive at Jumbo Games, believes this might be the case. He adds: “Collectables are continuing to have a great time of it because of the low price-points and fantastic variety there is on offer in-store.

“Traditional toys will always be sort after by parents because of the play values and levels of direct interactions that children have with these toys.”

While the argument against tech toys used to fall into the tired ‘tech is bad, traditional is good’ way of thinking, most are now in agreement: there is room, and a necessity, for both.

 Simon Newbery, MD of Orchard Toys, states: “Our belief is that both have an important role to play in a child’s development. 

“More and more parents are looking for toys that can compliment their child’s learning, which can be aided by both tech and traditional toys.” 

Joe Rushworth, sales manager at Marbel, adds: “I think traditional toys will always have a strong place in the toy industry, but with the generations changing and being brought up with more tech toys, they very well could overtake more traditional toys one day.”

While some vendors are optimistic that app toys will grow, it seems that the opinion of retailers is divided, with one retailer citing that customers want to ‘get their children away from screens’.

Charlotte Croser, owner of Jollys Toys, says: “I am sure that the web-connected toys will grow into the future, but I also think that the market for more traditional, non-electronic toys will continue to remain strong, 

“The majority of customers buying toys are adults and parents who are resistant to the idea of their children playing with electronics and being online for large amounts of time.”

In comparison, Wigwam Toys owner Clair Letton believes that app toys will inevitably rise as more innovations in technology become commonplace in many households.

“I think it is going to grow due to the ever increasing sophistication, availability and appeal of portable devices and the increased use of screens in all areas of our children’s lives,” she adds.

Despite sales of app toys sitting at one per cent of the total toy spend this year, with more vendors and retailers starting to embrace these products, this figure looks certain to increase.

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