Retro perspective

David Smith asks, as the economy recovers, is the retro toy boom about to go bust?
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Apparently, the economy is showing signs of recovery, but while that is obviously good news, it may actually spell trouble for one corner of the toy industry.

It is a long-established fact that nostalgia is a big seller during a recession.

Back in the early years of this downturn, the games industry noted a spike in sales of traditional board games. In 2009, overall board game sales were down, as you might expect with purse strings being tightened around the country, but games like Monopoly and Scrabble were bucking that trend.

There are many factors working here, but let’s consider two of the main ones.

First of all, there is a familiarity and a comfort factor at play.

A warm feeling of nostalgia is evoked by a familiar game or toy, especially when it comes in retro packaging that stirs those childhood memories.

With so many people dealing with uncertainty and stress in their lives, comfort is a valuable commodity and this trend can be seen in other areas as well.

In 2009, for instance, Wagon Wheels were rolled out again in retro wrappers and have been going strong ever since.

Secondly, during a recession people want to make every penny count. This has been seen in the ‘staycation’ and the make-do-and-mend revival and it applies every bit as much to toys.

Whereas in times of plenty we might be more willing to take a risk on a new board game, we are more likely to look for a sure-fire hit when money is scarce.

This often means opting for tried and trusted products remembered from childhood – you know exactly what you are getting and the risk of disappointment is reduced.

Retro toys and games have been prominent for several years now, and they were identified as one of the top six industry trends at the American International Toy Fair earlier this year, but if the economy really is picking up, and if people start to feel the benefits in another year or so, then this retro revival may start to peter out.

We may be in for a very retro Christmas this year, but by the end of 2014, if this recovery takes hold, the retro toy craze could enter a downturn of its own.


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