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US toymakers play up more educational and sustainable products to price-savvy parents

NEW YORK: As the year-end festive gift-giving season nears, parents across the United States are getting ready to splurge on toys for children. 

But as inflation remains stubbornly high and price pressures continue to eat into the public’s spending power, shoppers are getting more savvy in their purchases.

Apart from hunting for the best deals, they are also looking at toys that teach and stimulate, from companies that pledge social responsibility in their products.

To match such expectations, toymakers are developing merchandise with more price-aware shoppers in mind, as they try to deliver options that fit every budget, industry experts said.

HUNTING FOR THE BEST BARGAINS

At the annual New York City Toy Fair earlier this month – the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere – observers said the industry is adapting to help shoppers stretch their wallets.

“Tighter budgets are definitely something toymakers have put into consideration,” said Ms Isabel Carrion, senior director of digital communications at Toy Association, the trade association for the US toy industry.

“The average price of a toy in the US is around US$12. So while parents might be buying less toys, there are still a lot out there to fit any pocket.”

Mr James Zahn, editor-in-chief of trade magazine The Toy Book, said some toymakers have managed to bring costs down recently. He showed CNA a digital pet toy that players can touch, feel and interact with, which is retailing at US$30.

Such statistics have pushed toymakers to prove their games and gadgets are more than just gimmicks, and stretch the scope of play to new limits.

“We have seen in the past six or seven years, the explosion of sensory and fidget toys, either hardline toys that crackle and pop and snap, or soft, squishy things. It reflects the needs of society,” said Mr Aaron Muderick.

He is the founder of Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, a stretchy toy he said was created with the aim of helping not just children, but also adults, focus and cope with stress and anxiety.

TOYS ARE NOT JUST FOR KIDS

It is no surprise that businesses are also targeting older age groups, with the so-called “kidult” market expanding at a rapid rate.

Market research firm NPD Group found that almost a quarter of all toys sold from June 2021 to June 2022 were purchased for those above the age of 12.

Some companies have taken it even further.

Ageless Innovation, a firm that produces robotic therapy toy pets, said its products are designed to bring joy, play, comfort and companionship into the lives of seniors. 

Such environmentally conscious products have a market. A study from researchers The Insights Family found many parents are willing to spend more on eco-friendly products, with two-thirds of those surveyed saying they take active steps to purchase more sustainably.

TOYS STILL IN HUGE DEMAND

The US toy sector cashed in just over US$29 billion in sales last year, a 0.2 per cent decline year-on-year.

Analysts expect similar returns this year but warn that recent metrics do not paint the full picture – business still looks rosy. The slight dip is due to a toy sales boom during the COVID-19 pandemic, when families were cooped up at home, they said.

“If we compare where we are at in 2023 to where the world was at in 2019, the toy business is actually still up. The pandemic skewed the numbers, when people were buying excessively,” said Mr Zahn.

Shoppers may be increasingly price conscious but industry players are confident the sector will weather the recent challenging economic spell.

Experts said a toy’s ability to boost spirits during tough times makes the sector resilient to recession.

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