Toy Retail: Redefining a Future of Play

Toy Retail: Redefining a Future of Play 491 800 Chute Gerdeman

Can Retail Come Out and Play?

Redefining the Toy Experience

What if Woody and Buzz never escaped Sid Phillips? What if Princess Fiona became evil Lord Farquaad’s bride after all? What if Marlin and Dory never found Nemo? What if Charlie Bucket lost his golden ticket? Or, what if the world became a place without play? It’s an invaluable part of life for kids of all ages, and as we bid adieu to Toys “R” Us, it’s time for the store to step up and stimulate creativity and imagination.

Can retail come out and play?

How kids play today is a far cry from what many of us are accustomed to. It’s easy to understand why tablets have become popular with young children. They are simple to navigate, provide unlimited entertainment, and offer a personalized experience they can control. It’s become their safety blanket and friend. Often times, children are teaching adults how to use their own electronic devices. In return, it’s up to us to make sure they know what it really means to play. Not with a phone or tablet, but laughing with a friend, creating a world of imagination with a collection of toys, riding freely on a bike–all in pure kid fashion.

We believe in building a unique experience where children and parents can come together to play, find the perfect toy, and create memories together is achievable in this new retail world. Current store operations are doomed if they aren’t making a revolutionary change to counteract the digital take over. Just having product in the store isn’t going to cut it. Amazon already has that.

The 7 Evolutions for the Future of Play

According to The NPD Group the global toy industry last year was the largest it has ever been in the history of the industry. Of course, it’s no longer business as usual, but kids are still screaming to play! Retail must evolve at the same rate as the changing patterns in how kids play. No longer can retailers simply put items on a shelf and expect a parent or child to be interested. It’s about the story, the interaction, the inspiration, and awe. Combined with an engaging and transparent background, retailers will have a winning combination.

1. Operation Freak Out

Computers, phones, and video games are taking up an insurmountable time of kids’ daily activities. Kids study it, are excited about it, and can’t get enough. Parents are finding themselves challenged to create that balance between on-screen and offline and get kids back outside. It’s our job to create moments at retail that pull kids out of this online black hole.

What if stores focused on excitement, rather than products?

We want to celebrate the “freak out factor.” The experience needs to be new, exciting, and connected to what young minds gravitate to. Incorporating, action and retail in a hands-on, collaborative environment. One mention of going and there’s a guarantee freak out among young fans.

There’s a tremendous opportunity for brands to create outdoor spaces with educational activities and experiments to keep the little ones engaged. Relevant brand partnerships integrated in the activity space, like Little Tikes tools for a garden, get kids using the product in a real life way. We believe retailers can offer day or weeklong camp programs to encourage parents to invest in an experience that not only is fun, but educational. Parents can even rent the space for hosting events like birthdays and end-of-the-year celebrations positioning the retailer as an ideal place of play.

2. Retail Unboxed

The unboxing of products online is an undeniable phenomenon. Fashion, sports, beauty, and especially toys, a person can get lost in the video wormhole that is YouTube. Influential kids get paid millions of dollars a year just to open a box, share their honest opinion, and thousands of impressionable eyeballs are tuning in everyday to watch. It’s become the live action Yelp and Amazon reviewer. Consumers put their trust in these social influencers to recommend products while brands are investing in their endorsement and ability to raise awareness.

What if the store became a social platform?

In partnership with social influencers, host a monthly unboxing in-store event to launch products and create buzz. Kids and parents can experience live and in person building the bridge from online fun to in-store action. Retailers have the opportunity to offer a new way for these kids to participate and alter this online only phenomenon. Creating awesome unboxing events can shift month-to-month with the latest products, hottest influencers, and include events like toy donations for organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters. Viewers can also tune in online via the retailer’s YouTube channel to watch the event in-store, encouraging them to visit the next event.

3. Live Toy Lab

What was fun yesterday is replaced by something new and entertaining tomorrow. In some cases what once took months or years to make can now be created in weeks or even on-demand. With that, a host of smaller brands are sitting on shelf space next to legacy brands, and consumers have to determine who’s the best-of-the best.

What if retailers owned the new rules of play?

Retailers have the opportunity to create a place to expose consumers to new products and provide brands with feedback instantly…it’s a learning lab helping to shape the future of play. With an open box play platform, parents and kids get a chance to fully interact with new products, and learn about how it works, while real-time analytics evaluating product and display interaction give manufacturers a transparent view of the customer’s experience in-store.

4. Play Curation

Because kids have access to all different types of toys and entertainment every moment of the day, brands need to simplify to make the biggest impact. Capitalize on all the play senses and keep kids active.

What if the store only had the best of the best?

Forget endless aisles of product. We’re all about sparking real imagination and toy excitement. Successful retailers will offer smaller and more curated assortments that allow kids to explore, while maintaining control of influence. There is nothing playful or exciting about an aisle of boxes. Catch the attention of a kid and hold onto it–and bring the parent into the fold with a more focused approach.


“A great retail experience should offer a great sense of discovery. A sense of play and imagination are two of the greatest emotional experiences you can have, and the ability to go to a toy store and discover and experience an environment of play and imagination is the best selling tool in the toy industry.”

-David Niggli | Chief Merchandising Officer, FAO Schwarz

5. Kids These Days

Toy retailers are losing a share of the Boomer and Mature consumer. As this demographic becomes increasingly disengaged with young kids and their interests, we should provide tools to empower older generations to buy and feel confident in the purchase. Transforming them from “out-of-touch” to the “coolest grown up ever.” More retailers are focusing on personalized services and the older demographic is taking advantage of the unique offerings. Online shopping can be an easy default, but it’s unpredictable with children’s likes changing so frequently.

What if retailers made gift giving a super power?

Empower associates to help customers find the perfect gift with a highly personalized one-on-one member experience. By creating custom kid profiles based on the child’s hobbies, habits, values, likes, and dislikes, associates can recommend unique products tailored to the child. “Wish lists” can be paired with popular items trending with kids of similar interests. Beyond the benefit of expert advice, it can become an experience for the gift giver. Who doesn’t want to see your youngster’s face light up when they open a gift? Added bonus: member event nights with food and gift-wrapping services can let customers pre-shop for big holidays making gift giving even sweeter.

What Toy Are You?

A totally fun personality quiz

Some of us never grow up, or at the very least still hold onto a few childlike traits. The gadgets and toys that keep kids entertained have taken on many forms over the years. Which one most represents you? Let's have some fun!

6. Creation Station

Kids today don’t just want to buy products created for them; they want an active role in creating the end product. It’s not a new trend, but a continued expectation, and consumers willing to spend more for products that feel personal. Today, sophisticated technologies like 3D scanning and printing are speeding up the process and providing these kids with exactly what they want as quickly as they expect.

What if imagination blended with instant gratification?

Implement a co-creation station where kids use both high-tech and low-tech tools to craft personalized products for themselves, friends, or family. Ignite their literary skills by letting them design and publish their own choose your own adventure book. Or let them turn their online avatars into miniature 3D printed toys, and their social selfies can become print books.

Today’s New Family Dynamic

New considerations are essential for redefining a future of play. Family values and motivations are shifting. Time is more valuable than money, and consumers are spending more on experiences than products. Parents are placing a high value on making memories, and health and wellness are new family goals.

With societal changes enter new consumer demands in the role that brands need to play. Parents are looking for help to achieve work life balance, while also finding footing in a digitally driven world. With a conscious focus on their children’s future, parents are expecting brands to take a stance on making a positive societal impact, and demonstrate a give back purpose to the community and world at large.

7. Level Up

Today’s loyalty programs are losing their luster. Rewarding customers for simply purchasing product is not enough to bring them back in-store. Building in an element of social impact will motivate conscious consumers looking to do more with their money. For three decades one of the most successful children’s “rewards” programs was built around education. Pizza Hut’s BOOK IT program has helped to encourage kids to read and develop good reading skills and habits. In partnership with schools, the nationwide program rewards students with certificates, stickers, buttons, and a personal pizza for reading books. In total the brand has impacted more than 14 million students.

What if retailers had a play program?

Partner with local parks to reward kids for making positive environmental impact. It could be planting trees, creating or spending time supporting a neighborhood garden, or completing a series of initiatives like cleaning up the community. Or embrace national programs like “Let’s Move” to encourage activity in and out of school through a series of achievements. A mobile application can help track the progression of activity and achievements while also creating a level of gamification element. The goal is to encourage children to take an active role in their futures and the communities in which they live. In turn they’re rewarded with a toy, trophy, or badge of merit for their efforts that they can claim in-store.

Toy and entertainment retailers have an opportunity to re-establish themselves as leaders in the new play movement. You see there’s no room for a static store anymore. The space is endless for experience with engagement, personalization, and fun for kids and the kids at heart. It’s time for retail to come out and own all things play!

Photos: Google Images | Videezy! | Pet Rock: Investor’s Digest | Cabbage Patch: Gazette Review | Nintendo Switch: Nintendo | Magic 8-Ball: CoolGift | Etch A Sketch: Ebay | Pokemon: Deviant Art | Jenga: Flickr | Easy-Bake Oven: Hasbro, AP | iPod: Apple | Mr. Potato Head: Hasbro

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© Chute Gerdeman

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