MY VIEW: Getting the price right

David Smith explores how a price tag can affect a consumers expectations of a toy.
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What do consumers think when they look at the price tag on a toy?

Although affordability is obviously a major issue, reactions actually go far beyond the simple ‘can I afford it?’.

Prices trigger all sorts of responses in their own right. Inside a consumer is a personal sliding scale that gives instant feedback on a price, and that feedback can determine whether a toy is bought or left on the shelf.

This is a personal thing, but through painstaking research (while dropping the kids off at school) I have come to some scientific conclusions about what different prices mean to the average UK consumer.

Inevitably, the price of a toy generates expectations regarding its quality, but as the price rises, the expectation of quality starts to become undermined by a growing fear of disappointment. As every additional £10 is added, the consumer is aware this is becoming an increasingly important purchase.

The first level on the consumer’s sliding scale is not concerned with a price being too high – quite the opposite. If a toy is under a pound, the consumer is more likely to think ‘that must be rubbish’ than ‘wow, that’s cheap, I’ll take six’.

As the price climbs to £5, the consumer starts to expect a bit of quality, but they aren’t expecting too much and are willing to take the risk
that the toy may, in fact, be rubbish.

This is one of the most forgiving price points on the scale, where getting a really good toy is actually seen as a pleasant surprise.

The next step encompasses toys you would be happy to give as a birthday present to someone else’s child. There is an element of pride involved here – you don’t want your child to turn up at a party with the cheapest present – and this has resulted in a highly event-specific form of inflation. When I first started buying such toys, £5 was the accepted price for a birthday gift. In just six years it has spiralled to a tenner.

At the £10 price point, you want to be certain of offering a toy that is at least acceptable, and this means that consumers are on the lookout for shoddiness or unreliability.

The scale then shifts subtly as prices rise, and a critical point is reached around the £30 mark. This is where the purchaser wants to be fairly certain they are buying a toy that will be really appreciated. Quality has now become the most important factor and this is reinforced as prices continue to rise.

By the time you reach £60, according to our research, a toy has to be as close to a must-have proposition as possible, as this will be one of the main presents given for a birthday or Christmas. Getting this wrong would be a major disaster.

Climbing higher, the air gets thinner and it becomes ever harder for a toy to survive. To continue its ascent up the price range, a toy will usually require the backing of a really trusted name. A Playmobil or Lego, for instance, can dare to stick a high price tag on a toy more readily than a lesser-known brand.

There are all sorts of factors that go into setting a price for a toy – production costs, licensing fees, shipping and more. To the toy manufacturer, the final price might mean just one thing – a number that lets them turn a decent profit and stay in business.

To the consumer, as I hope I’ve demonstrated, it means much more.

David Smith runs the consumer toy website Toy Talk.

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