This Bloomberg story about how classic, long-lived toy lines like LEGO, Star Wars, My Little Pony and others are seeing sales fall has a lot of good reasons to explain what’s happening. Discussed in the report are things like price points, changing consumer preferences and more. The comes on the heels of retail toy giant Toys ‘R’ Us declaring bankruptcy because of some of those same market forces which, when combined with crushing private equity debt, made continued operation untenable.
One of the points offered in the Bloomberg report is that kids these days are choosing things like blind box figures, Tsum Tsums and other products instead of the more traditional action figures or dolls that have been the mainstay of toy aisles for generations. While the reasons for those choices aren’t laid out in the report I think the trend shows how a changing culture is shaping what is bought and what’s not.
Understanding that anything is collectible if you want it to be, there’s a difference in the nature of something like Funko Pop figures and Transformers. You *can* choose to just put those Transformers on the shelf and display them (in or out of their packaging) but that’s not what they’re meant to do. Even more than that, something like Uglydolls, Funko Pops and other similar lines even come numbered, with checklists for the whole series so you can make sure you have them all. It’s certainly possible to “play” with these figures but they are designed to sit on your shelf or desk and look neat.
Better Lifestyle Fit
Young people today are drowning in social interactions. In addition to school they’re on social media, are playing video games alongside others (either local or remote) and chatting constantly with friends. But at the same time they enjoy less unstructured play time than previous generations because they’ve been loaded down with homework, are scheduled for a ton of extracurricular activities and generally don’t have much time for themselves.
So if they’re not just having friends over to play on a random Thursday afternoon, why bother with toys that are improved by the involvement of others? Back in the 80s, you’d get three friends to bring their Star Wars figures to school and then all go back to your house and spend an hour or three just doing that. This guy had the Scout Trooper you didn’t but you had a couple Ewoks and the other guy had Endor Luke so you could really recreate some cool Return of the Jedi scenes.
There’s no time for that now, but the toys are still created with the same mindset. Those Funko figures, though, don’t require that kind of interaction. They’ll be there on the shelf looking cool while the kid is in hour two of her 5th Grade math homework, or when he finally gets home after shuffling around from soccer to band and then to a pre-SAT tutoring session.
Better Price Point
The price of the figures themselves may not be that different. A Funko Pop on a store shelf, assuming it’s not some sort of retailer exclusive, will run you about $10, the same as a Star Wars action figure. The former, though, doesn’t also have a $39 or $149 vehicle for the figure to fit into. While there are some decent small LEGO sets available for under $20, most of the licensed sets of any size will run you at least $40.
That’s just not going to fit many people’s budgets. More than that, why would you spend $50 on something that’s just going to sit there because you don’t have time to actually play with it as intended? You could get a dozen blind box figures for that and work on completing your collection of whatever series has caught your eye recently.
There are indeed many reasons why certain toy segments are falling out of favor, many of which align with the reasons why Toys ‘R’ Us is going out of business. The points above, though, may also indicate that even toy aisles in big box retailers like Walmart and Target could be on the verge of a major overhaul. Those aisles are stocked with loads of “traditional” toys that may not be relevant or interesting to a significant portion of kids in just a few years.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.