By Robert Hutchins
It seems that almost every sector in the traditional toy space can cite a moment of increased sales and consumer interest over the course of a 2020 plagued with stay at home children and socially distanced families.
Compounded by the latest figures from the NPD Group, the toy industry really hasn’t fared too badly out of what has been an undeniably tumultuous year across the board, managing to find its way through a mire of lockdowns and restrictions to stumble into a reported eight per cent lift in year on year toy sales up to the week of November 1st alone.
Meanwhile, reports are coming in that Christmas shopping has really kicked into gear for the toy industry this season, as families look to compensate for a Covid-19 Christmas and the traditions that have been stripped by a still rife coronavirus.
Year on year games and puzzles sales are up 31 per cent, while building sets have seen sales increase 25 per cent. Then there’s the doll’s market, in which current category leaders Mattel and MGA Entertainment with its LOL Surprise powerhouse, have managed to keep the sector well and truly cemented within retailer’s top toys for Christmas lists across the country. If not, the world.
But it’s not just the fashion doll sector – with recent launches including the new Barbie Extra line and LOL Surprise Remix pumping new innovation into the space – that is making its presence felt this year. The more traditional quarters of the sector are more than playing their part, too.
It’s according to the nurturing doll market specialist, Play Like Mum, that searches for dolls prams have risen by 23 per cent over the course of the last six months, coinciding with the national school closures and lockdown measures put into place over the past year. Parents, it would seem, are turning to the traditional as an alternative to screens and technology – and imaginative play is beginning to thrive.
Andrew Coplestone, founder of Play Like Mum, says: “It is becoming more worrying for parents as they see their children increasingly engrossed and isolated in phones and tablets.
“The lack of interaction has led to parents reassessing the types of toys they are buying for their children and grandchildren, and this has led to a strong growth over the last 12 months in classic toys, such as doll’s prams.”
With peer-to-peer interaction down to a minimum this year, it’s little surprise that toys that encourage the use of imagination and role-play have seen an uptick as kids and parents alike look for new means of introducing adventure into their play.
Coplestone continues: “We need toys that inspire the imagination and encourage children to role-play everyday activities that they see around them in the family. Even something as simple as a well-made child’s doll pram can become a whole new adventure for children.”
The market for children’s dolls and dolls’ prams has been a steady one that, over the past year or two, have seen a growth in strength. It could be a pushback against the rising tide of screen-time that has boosted the market, or the current trend for nostalgia among an audience of parents looking to relive their childhood vicariously.
Whatever the cause of the phenomenon, it’s Coplestone’s belief that it’s only set to ‘surge further.’
“As more children spend time looking at screens, the concerns of parents grow,” he said. “We all want our kids to have a nice balance of educational technology as well as tools and toys to use imagination and free play – and a dolls’ pram is a classic, and always will be.”
Trends towards nurturing play aren’t exclusive to the classics, of course; it’s is a consumer demand that has been fed through the mainstream channel, too. Vivid’s autumn/winter launch, Vet Squad has already been met with a strong positive response from retailers and consumers, championing the range for its implementation of that enduring play pattern; rescuing poorly pets and restoring them back to health.
“We’ve seen a huge spike in demand for this sort of role-play as our audience collect across the pets, vets, and vehicles while creating their own mini vet adventures with the Vet Squad Surgery Play-set,” Emma Weber, marketing and licensing director at Vivid Imaginations, tells ToyNews.
“Through the launch of Vet Squad, we could quickly see consumer demand for the type of nurturing play and, despite the challenging retailer environment with lockdowns, parental approval for the brand and play pattern has driven strong sales.
“We have seen a shift in parents purchasing as every penny counts, so their toy decisions are more involved as they seek products with long-lasting play appeal. The doll sector offers this in spades as role play with dolls offers endless play scenarios, using the toys as props to tell a multitude of stories.
“As a toy developer, we can only ever start the play adventure through our packaging and marketing. Once the toy is in a child’s hand, they become the master storytellers.”
As a result of the current growth in doll demand, Vivid has expressed a great deal of excitement over the upscale of its operations in dolls aisles across the country in the coming year. Vet Squad development, according to the firm, has been tailored to meet demand of higher priced vehicle and play-sets, more of which the firm promises to reveal through its upcoming ‘virtual previews.’
“We’re starting to see great early sales reads for the Love Diana doll range that launched late autumn/winter 2020 across the pond, showing that girls are loving her YouTube content and want to re-enact being Diana through doll play,” continues Weber.
“As her channel stats continue to climb, we’re looking forward to launching a comprehensive doll range, on shelf January, to meet all price points and play patterns.”