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From Puzzles To Arts & Crafts, Demand For Toys That Educate & Entertain Grows

April 28, 2020 Sarah Cavill

Shutterstock_419481817 Home School Learning Homework Reading Concept

Someday this period of self-isolation will be over, and though we don’t know when that will be, one thing is certain: there will be many stories to tell. Some serious, some funny, and a lot about managing homeschool. Parents worldwide have gone from being parents to being educators, counselors, coaches, referees and parents. (And many while also working full time.) Depending on the age of the children, this is at best time-consuming and at worst, very, very difficult, so it’s no surprise that, since quarantines began, there have been significant upticks in toy sales. Many of these toys help with homeschooling and with keeping kids and parents entertained during the long days at home.

“Consumers have prepared for their family’s survival over an extended period by stocking up on the basic necessities, but as schools and workplaces closed, phase two of the big scramble began. U.S. parents loaded up on things to keep their kids occupied at home, help them navigate their new homeschooling situation, and to also be a source of entertainment for the whole family as we spend more time at home,” said Juli Lennett, toys industry advisor from market research group NPD.

Toy Brands Are Seeing Major Sales Boosts During Self-Isolation

Many major toy brands are seeing huge sales growth since self-isolation began in March. “Toys that keep kids busy for a long time, or at least 45 minutes, while parents are working at home are what’s soaring,” said Isaac Larian, Chief Executive of Los Angeles-based MGA Entertainment. Larien notes that sales of Little Tikes brand of toys were up 100% year over year in March, adding, “We have never seen that before.” 

Similarly, Jay Foreman, Chief Executive at Basic Fun, indicated sales of Lite-Brite on Amazon were up 800% during the later weeks of March, and demand for building toys like Lincoln Logs and K’nex were also high. 

MGA is hosting the #WorldsBiggestPlayDate (WBPD) on May 16, encouraging families to join in at home by downloading MGA’s free party kits and entering the WBPD sweepstakes for a chance to win a grand prize package of toys. Last year, the WBPD was a big, live event in Pasadena, CA, but MGA created a virtual party this year because of social distancing requirements.

Adults Are Also Enjoying Puzzles And Playing Games During Quarantine

Many of the toy sales seeing upticks are enjoyed by the whole family, like puzzles. According to a recent CNBC article, “Gamemaker Ravensburger has seen U.S. puzzle sales soar 370% year over year in the past two weeks.” Board games including Monopoly, Scrabble and Clue have also been popular choices. Puzzles, board games and LEGO sets also offer fun for the whole family, allowing parents and kids to bond in a way that is enjoyable, instead of stressful, and which keeps kids off screens for at least part of the day. 

LEGO launched #LetsBuildTogether

An article from The Guardian on toy sales in the UK reported, “LEGO’s Technic sets for a Bugatti and a Land Rover Defender were also among the top-selling toys, with total building set sales up by 59%.” Sales numbers are from NPD, for the week ending March 21. According to Rachael Larkman, a toy buyer for British department store John Lewis, it’s likely the pricey LEGO kits may have been bought by adults using their extra time to finally tackle these complicated kits. Overall LEGO sales at John Lewis have risen threefold since self-isolation began, with Larkman noting, “There is a growing demand from parents for toys which provide an educational element to play.” 

LEGO launched #LetsBuildTogether, a social media campaign encouraging kids and families to share their LEGO builds online. LEGO is posting daily build challenges and charming educational posts on Twitter and Instagram to encourage participation and engagement with the interactive campaign. 

Arts & Crafts And Outdoor Toys See Big Gains While Kids Are Learning At Home

In addition to classic toys that are good for learning and play, NPD reports parents are also turning to activity-based toys, books and art supplies. Many of these items are for homeschooling, but the art supplies in particular are finding use for crafts that have been trending during self-isolation because of coronavirus

“The strongest growth in the office supplies space is tied to both traditional school supply list products and art and drawing activities. Current trending activities include rainbow scavenger hunts, kindness art and messaging, stained glass sidewalk chalk art, chalk games and car parade celebrations where consumers make signs for one another,” said Leen Nsouli, office supplies industry analyst at NPD. “To spread kindness and make connections with one another while simultaneously social distancing, consumers are becoming very creative in how they interact.”

Of course, gym classes are also part of regular school days, not to mention the need to tire out cooped-up kids, so it’s not surprising play equipment like trampolines have also seen increased sales, up 20% for the week of March 21.

While Amazon Prioritized Essential Items, Some Small Toy Stores Benefitted

Shutterstock_373709401 PARIS, FRANCE - JAN 28, 2016: Amazon logotype printed on cardboard box side seen from above on a wooden parwuet floor. Amazon is an American electronic e-commerce company distribution worlwide

During the early days of quarantine, Amazon announced they would be prioritizing delivery of essential items, which drove some parents to smaller toy stores for their homeschool stock-ups. Many parents didn’t want to wait for shipping delays or were worried about supply issues, and instead they flocked to their local toy stores for arts and crafts. Mary Arnold Toys, a family-owned toy store in New York City that’s been in business for 85 years, saw holiday-type traffic during the first week that COVID-19 became a serious issue. After closing to in-store business, Mary Arnold Toys pivoted to puzzle, game and book bundles that can be delivered. "I'm hoping when the crisis is over, people will remember to support local businesses a little bit more," said Mary Arnold Toys owner Judy Ishayik

Many toy brands are making philanthropic donations to COVID-19 related charities and are offering support in other ways to harried parents. It’s essential for indoor toy brands to stay top of mind for parents and kids, as sales will likely slow once parents have what they need and the summer provides a respite from homeschooling and offers more time outside. Brands must differentiate themselves from one another and effectively engage consumers to build relationships that will continue into the new school year, and after self-isolation ends.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Associate Content Manager, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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