The difference between buying a toy and playing with one

Steve Reece ponders the shift from toys as a primary play driver, to toys as an easy gift.
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There’s a school of thought we’ve all encountered which suggests as long as a firm is selling sufficient numbers of a product to retailers it is doing well.

The shortfalls in that way of thinking though are that, firstly, if the product doesn’t sell off the shelf then good luck getting the next listing/doing further business with that retailer.

Secondly, there’s a distinct difference between someone buying a toy and a child using it.

A major trend I’ve observed over time is a general shift from toys as a primary play driver to toys as an easy and affordable gift.

That’s not to say toys aren’t played with. Over the course of a usual childhood, children receive so many toys that they literally wouldn’t have enough play time available to play actively and on-going with all, or even a majority of their toys.

Increasingly the main driver is the gifting occasion/impulse and the child’s desire for more stuff. Most parents will tell you about the amount of ‘junk’ that children accumulate.

If the child is asked about any particular object they may argue passionately for the retention of the precious object. However, put it quietly in the bin and parents tell us their children often don’t notice it has gone.

The implication for toy companies could at first glance appear to be that only sales count i.e. if a product keeps on selling regardless of how much it’s played with, that’s all that matters right?

Well to a certain degree the answer has to be yes, you clearly can get away with that approach to a certain extent.

However, in an industry where between two thirds to three quarters of all SKUs are new each year, and where R&D spend and marketing launch costs for new products are at a premium, carry forward items are pure gold.

If they sell in good quantities they are more likely to be relisted without as much pushing or leverage due to proof of performance. They need less marketing and no additional R&D spend, which equals more profit for the toy company.

And if you look at products which sell year after year, they usually deliver strong, timeless play experiences where sales are as much driven by positive word of mouth and the desire to offer the next generation of children an equally positive play experience as by the marketing spend.

So even if not every child takes full advantage of the play opportunity, we should still do everything we can to deliver it for our own long-term benefit.


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