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These kids at heart are responsible for one-fourth of all toy sales annually, around $9 billion worth, and are the biggest driver of growth throughout the industry, according to data from the NPD Group.
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This cohort, which NPD defines as ages 12 and older, has been steadily contributing to the industry for years, but spending has accelerated in the wake of the pandemic, leading to year-over-year gains despite tough comparisons.
It's an important moment for the toy industry, too, with the holiday season upon us. While sales surged across the board for board games, puzzles and playsets during the pandemic, the first nine months of 2022 saw a 3% decline in sales volume. Higher toy prices helped outweigh these losses, as sales revenue for the time period jumped 3%, NPD reported.
Kidults, who tend to spend more on toys, have a great fondness for cartoons, superheroes and collectibles that remind them of their childhood. They buy merchandise such as action figures, Lego sets and dolls that might typically be considered "for kids." However, in recent years, toy makers have created product lines just for these consumers, realizing that demand is high for this generation of adults who still want to have fun.
"The definition of adulthood has definitely evolved," said Jeremy Padawer, chief brand officer at toy company Jazwares. "What it used to mean, to be an adult, was to be a very upstanding, serious member of society. And to do that you had to demonstrate it intellectually, emotionally, in every other single way."
In the '70s and '80s, the toy business began to shift away from being an industry that was just about the next innovative item and embraced creating more product based on entertainment franchises. To be sure, there were toys based on movies and TV shows prior to this time, but this is when the trend kicked into high gear.
"At the time, the intended recipient was almost all kids," he explained. "But those children that were born in the '70s and '80s were really the first generation that had this much licensing and this much product that was available for them to demonstrably attached to. And it's not a big surprise, then that those kids is their 30s and 40s, that they continue to demonstrate that."
This kidulting trend started to rise in prominence around a decade ago, as superhero movies and comic book culture exploded into the mainstream. It became more consequential to the bottom lines of toy companies in the last five years, said James Zahn, editor in chief of "The Toy Book" and senior editor of "The Toy Insider."
Toy manufacturers such as Lego embraced these consumers and created lines, often tied to nostalgic entertainment properties, just for this cohort. Hasbro's Black Series for action figures, is a prime example of this, tapping into the desire for high-quality Star Wars and Marvel collectibles. Even Mattel has lines from Barbie and Hot Wheels that are designed specifically for this group of buyers.
Toy companies have even begun creating their own television and movie content in order to support toy lines. Mattel launched its own internal movie company and is set to release "Barbie" in July 2023 and Hasbro bought eOne and will set "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" in theaters in March.
"The Razor Icon is literally the adult version of the kick scooter, but it's electric," he said. "I just got done with an event and everyone says the same thing, 'Oh, my goodness, I'm so glad they came up with all these adults. I'm so glad they came up this reminds me of...' and they would tell me a story."
The Razor Icon, which can reach 18 miles per hour, retails for $600 and is part of the company's wider collection of items for kidults. There's also the Rambler, a take on the retro mini motor-bike, which looks like a swoop bike from the '60s and can reach 15.5 miles per hour. It retails for $660.
Zahn also pointed to Basic Fun as another example of a company transforming its traditionally kid-centric toys into unique items for adults. The toy manufacturer partnered with Netflix to create a larger version of its Lite-Brite set based on "Stranger Things" that can be hung as artwork. It costs $100.
Inventory has been a major challenge for retailers across the board. Supply chain snafus threatened to make shelves bare for holiday shoppers last year, leading many big-box stores to hedge their bets on how much merchandise to order and receive deliveries earlier than usual. As the supply chain loosened, many had excess inventory, leading to sharper discounts as demand waned.
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For now, the adult market continues to thrive. Gottlieb estimates that $2.4 billion worth of toys in the U.S. are sold every year to adults for their own use. A survey conducted last year by the Toy Association found that 58% of parents had bought toys and games for themselves. And after two years of double-digit growth, toy sales have slowed but are still up 3% year-over-year as of September, with the holidays ahead.
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Use caution when you see "educational" on the label. The truth is most tablets, computer games, and apps advertised as "educational" really aren't. Most "educational" apps target memory skills, such as ABCs and shapes. These skills are only one part of school readiness. The skills young children really need to learn for success in school (and life) include impulse control, managing emotions, and creative, flexible thinking. These are best learned through unstructured and social play with family and friends. Research suggests tablet-based toys may actually delay social development for infants and young children, because they don't include real-life facial expressions, gestures, and vocalizations.
Limit video game and computer game use. Total screen time, including television and computer use, should be less than 1 hour per day for children 2 years or older and avoided for those younger than 2 years of age. Children younger than 5 years should only be allowed to play with developmentally appropriate computer or video games, ideally together with a parent or caregiver. See Healthy Digital Media Use Habits for Babies, Toddlers & Preschoolers.
Government regulations, improved safety standards for the manufacture and use of toys, and product testing have made most toys safe when used appropriately for the recommended ages and stages of development. However, unsafe toys can still be found.
In determining toy safety, the features of the toy should be considered as well as how the toy might be used or abused, and the amount of supervision or help needed for safe play. Avoid toys with button batteries or high-powered magnets.
A certain toy is not necessary for your child to reach his or her next developmental milestone. There is no one app that will teach your child to read. While it's easy to fall victim to the marketing, you are your child's best teacher.
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