Christmas toys are not child’s play: this billion-dollar industry starts gearing towards the gift-giving season from early January. So what will the marketing machines be likely to deliver under the tree this year?
Editor of industry magazine Toy and Hobby Retailer, Fiona Cameron, says toys are a robust business that can thrive in any economic climate and peaks every year in the lead-up to Christmas.
“People will stop spending on their own hobbies before they stop spending on their kids,” she says.
The industry has two distinct sectors in Australia: large retailers and independent toy stores.
“The big retailers have major toy sales in the middle of the year with a big push on lay-bys for Christmas,” Cameron says.
Thirty per cent of the major retailer toy trade globally is driven by licensing deals, based on television shows and films, computer games and apps – a market driven successfully by huge international marketing machines, Cameron says.
“The independents tend to go for more unusual European toys and more traditional top quality brands.”
Cameron says there are four distinct categories of customer when it comes to toy preference.
“There are some people who will only buy licensed toys for their children because they liked the movie. Then other people say, ‘No, I want eco-friendly, traditional wooden toys’. Then some who will buy a little of each,” she says.
“Then you’ve got the kids themselves who go to school, go to their friends’ places and see other toys. Kids don’t necessarily want what their parents want to get.”
Merchandise manager Jeff Drayton of Australia’s largest independent retailer, Kidstuff, says picking the next trend in toys is an important part of the business.
Part of this process is reviewing toy manufacturers’ marketing schedules – “It is rare that an item with significant dollars on television spend on it won’t perform,” Drayton says – though it is never an exact science.
“A lot of it is gut feel. It’s about building on success from the past. Look for the elements that are popular and combine them and you have a pretty safe bet.”
One product that meets this criteria that Drayton expects will abound this Christmas is the Whipple.
“It’s building on success of the past: girls make their own cupcakes and jewellery accessories and they combine that with the global marketing support.”
Drayton says this year’s Christmas will have references to the past, with Zelfs lined up to be a popular choice – a throwback to the troll dolls of the 80s. Another is Glitzi Globes where children can make their own snow globes.
There are a suite of timeless brands that are always popular at Christmas time, Drayton says, including Lego and the nuts-and-bolts set Meccano.
However there is a shift away from the classic Barbie, with this year’s doll Lottie Doll drawing parents’ dollars.
“The Lottie Dolls are more anatomically correct, it’s about girls feeling good about who they are, and their dolls doing things they do, like going to the park, not going to the disco,” Drayton says.
Deirdre Mcdonough, manager of independent toy store in Melbourne’s south-east, Toy Soldier, says the old school Sylvanian Families, a toy that has been around for almost 30 years, is experiencing an enormous resurgence and will be a popular Christmas gift.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she says. “They are good quality, quaint all-animal families. It’s just kids playing houses or hospitals.”
Mcdonough’s tip for most popular new toy is the Micro Scooter, which has the option of offering two wheels to stabilise younger children and can be adapted through a suite of accessories as the child becomes more independent.
“They are a phenomenon. It’s giving you a product that can take you from 18 months to probably about five years.”
The other big sellers in Toy Soldier are the perennial favourites from parents who have an interest in education, Mcdonough says.
“For girls, particularly in the craft area of six to 15, Djeco is hugely popular – it’s our best selling craft by a long way. With the boys at Christmas, you’ll find you’ll get a lot of Green Science, with experiments using recyclable products.”
These learning-based products are gaining popularity as people move away from the iPads, Mcdonough says.
“People used to think it was cute for kids to use an iPad, but there is a real swing back towards the traditional,” she says.
TOP FIVE THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHEN CHOOSING A TOY FOR CHRISTMAS
1. Are there any educational benefits?
2. Is the toy age appropriate?
3. Are there any recommendations or reviews?
4. Is it designed and made well? Will it last? Could it be passed around the family or down through generations?
5. Will other siblings, mum and dad or grandparents want to play? Toys are great when the whole family can join in.
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