According to Dominic Sacco over at Toy News Online Tesco has decided to downsize their toy section (along with many other ‘non-food’ sections). The reason they give is high cost and low margin and I expect that this won’t be the last we hear of this kind of thing. The truth is it’s getting trickier to get toys made cheaply in China because two things are happening at once. The first, and most obvious, change is that the cost of living (and the expectation) of life in China is changing and this is resulting in an increase in the price of getting something manufactured there. To be honest this first change has been a long time coming and we can hardly be surprised that China’s expectations for standard of living have risen along with their position in the world.
The second change is one that is effecting the lowest priced items the most (though the effects ; CE certification (health and safety checks) used to be based on the assessment of a product in it’s first run at a factory, after that point the company could continue to manufacture that product with minor amendments (colour etc.) for years. However, a new move has now been introduced which, on the face of it, is supposed to avoid the risk standards slipping over time: basically checks are now performed at regular intervals and every test costs money. The tests appear to cost a flat rate and so the result of this is that the effect this has on high priced items will be minimal with the test amounting to a small fraction of the cost per item. However for toys at the budget/ pocket money end where margins are already kept pretty tight there’s less room for them to take this kind of cost and still come in as something you could market as a ‘pocket money’ item.
I can imagine that this situation will only become more pronounced over time and so the question we’re left with is what does this mean for pocket money toys? My feelings about the value of pocket money toys have been made clear in a previous post but it’s worth making them known again here: they’re a simple, inexpensive play item which can nonetheless become a staple part of your child’s play (that is if they’re built to last). What’s more, pocket money toys provide a surprising wealth of play experience, allowing children to encounter very different types of toys (and play) without having to sacrifice a Christmas or Birthday present to test out a new type of toy.
With this in mind the effect on the way children play will likely be complex but I do expect less pocket money toys to produce an initial lessening in the range of play which kids engage in. This may produce something of a polarising effect in the toy market as children stick to tried and tested toys and become less willing to venture into different camps. Of course many pocket money toys can be described as ‘cheap tat’ but this often misses the point: buying oner of these cheaper toys lets you know if your child will be likely to play with their more expensive counterparts.
Take one very simple example taken from my life. As you can see in my old pocket money post Logan gained some favourite toys in the form a small set of pocket money animals he got when he was two. We now have two toy drawers at home stuffed full of animal and dinosaur figures, most of them are schleich figures which are far from being the cheapest toy figures on the market but they’re far more detailed and generally really robust so we felt it was worth the extra cost. As far as toy animals are concerned I’m not sure if we would have stepped up our spending to this degree if we hadn’t been sure that Logan would play with them and the pocket money animal set he got was a big part of that decision-making process.
So basically I’m trying to point out that pocket money toys are going to start costing more whilst other toys may not increase to the same degree but I don’t think this should put us off buying them. These kinds of toy can be a vital research tool for parents, allowing them to gauge their child’s response to play formats they may not have been exposed to yet. In short, if we lose pocket money the whole industry could change, but more than this (and much worse) children are likely to polarise towards the kinds of play that are most familiar to them, as they become less and less exposed to things that lie outside their comfort zone. We may need to start limiting buying pocket money toys to once a fortnight or once a month or risk a massive rise on our toy spending as parents, but I don’t think we should stop buying them. We should stick to pocket money toys as they teach our children not simply to treat themselves every now and then but also pocket money toys show them new worlds of play and I for one am comfortable with spending a bit more (maybe less often) to continue to make this happen.