Redefining “Essential”: Play, Parenting and the Pandemic

2020 was a year of change, to say the very least. By now, we’re all rolling our eyes at the word “unprecedented”. How can anything be a major shift when everything is so completely unstable?!

Last year proved that there is one sure thing in life, however — the power of play. As the COVID-19 monster reared its ugly head across the globe, forcing families into social and physical isolation, lockdown, quarantine, or whatever term your local community is using, parents were forced to face a challenging new reality: working from home, with kids, while locked inside the house around the clock. Toys and games quickly proved to be almost as essential to daily life as toilet paper.

Growth in the Toy Industry


Last month, NDP Group, a leading market research company in the United States, reported that U.S. retail sales of toys increased by 16% ($3.5 billion), producing $25.1 billion in sales in 2020. It seems that the volatile effects of COVID-19 have not crept into the toy space, but, instead, the pandemic has boosted the toy and gaming category with desperate parents trying to keep their cooped up kids happy and entertained. The pandemic has also placed an even higher value on finding ways to spend quality time together as a family while “stuck” at home together. “The growth we’ve seen in the toy industry speaks to the fact that parents are willing to put their childrens’ happiness above all else,” Juli Lennett, VP and industry advisor, U.S. Toys, The NDP Group told The Toy Book. “The industry’s resiliency is very much underpinned by the reality that in times of hardship, families look to toys to help keep their children engaged, active, and delighted. Put simply, toys are a big part of the happiness equation.”


Virtual as the New Global Standard

2020 also saw the solidification of permanent change in consumer behaviour — virtual retail is the way the world shops. Online shopping is now king.

With a boom in the number of connected devices and more accessibility, people are able to tap into the virtual world from anywhere, any time. The pandemic has accelerated the transition to e-commerce. Retail shoppers, stuck at home, have been pushed to change their behaviors overnight. This trend can most clearly be seen in the toy industry: retail closures and consumer fears about in-person shopping created a surge in online toy sales, with 75% growth in overall online toy sales year over year.


Getting Your Virtual “Game Face” On

With the end of the pandemic still far out of reach, families in lockdown, more schools moving online (while we, the parents, continue to work from home), we can confidently predict that consumers will continue to turn to toys and games for relief from boredom (and nagging). This, coupled with the rise in online shopping can only mean one thing: toy brands, retailers and distributors need to level up their e-commerce and digital marketing game by unlocking the following achievements:

    Retailers should be directing their energies toward their e-commerce sites. Improving the user experience, analysis of your direct-to-consumer sales data, and integration with in-store experience are the keys. Your marketing team needs to work closely with sales, operations, and your web team or agency to ensure that your website is up to par and that all are aligned on best practices that continuously evolve in virtual spaces. Tracking every visitor and every click on your web site can put you on the path to success online.
    Yes, we’re all stuck at home and watching our big and small screens, but we’re not watching TV the way we used to. Toy companies, therefore, should not be advertising the way they used to. Your marketing team or agency must be well versed in the digital tactics and channels that can be leveraged to reach your most valuable audience. Getting to know the new digital landscape and asking the right questions of your team or agency are essential to ensuring your efforts and dollars are being spent efficiently.
    The value of building your online community through digital channels cannot be overstated. This is especially true in the toy space where parents love to connect on a personal level with the brands and retailers they trust while also being introduced to other like-minded moms and dads. Creating a community means building goodwill and seeing the organic creation of user generated content which can and should be leveraged to refuel that same community. Parents love to share what makes their children joyful, and we are all craving connection these days (even through the screens of our devices). Providing your social media community with engaging content as well as a space for communication (the comments section) builds trust and loyalty.

Toys, games and play have proven to be among those golden essential items throughout this global pandemic. The question is — are you doing all that you can to get your essential products to those actively searching for them?

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