Parents Weigh In: The Most Sought-After Characteristics When It Comes to Buying Toys for Their Children

Sep 22, 2015

Do you remember your favorite toys from the 80s and/or 90s? Or maybe a commercial for a toy that you can still sing the tune to? (“My buddy, my buddy, wherever I go, he goes…”) I certainly remember my Barbie days, and I may or may not still have all of mine at my mom’s house… you know, just in case they’re worth a lot of money someday. Oh, who am I kidding? I could never part with those gems. Anyway, I think we can all agree our favorite toys no doubt made lasting impressions on us in at least some way.

A Burning Question

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a room with my research colleagues waiting for a meeting to start when we got onto the topic of our favorite toys we played with as kids. From the Skip-It to Cabbage Patch Kids to Transformers, several classics came to mind for us. And in true research fashion, we also started to ask a few questions: What features make for a memorable toy? What characteristics do parents look for when shopping for toys for their children? Are there any major differences among favorite toys from decades past?

The Research and Methodology

In order to answer these questions, we took to our Instant Research Groups (IRGs) to understand toy preferences among parents ages 30–45 with children ages 3+. In identifying trends in toy preferences for both parents and their children, we hoped to lend clarity into the process parents use to purchase and judge toys for their children.

The following key question and research objectives were used to guide our exploratory, qualitative research:

Key Question: How do parents select toys for their children, and what factors make a toy “great”?

Research Objectives:

  1. Understand what specific toys, if any, people wish still existed today for their children, or still wish had a strong presence today and why.
  2. Uncover the best toy features, packaging, category (action figures, dolls, board games, etc.), level of interaction, functionality, etc.

The Results: What Parents Need to See to Believe (and to Buy)

It turns out, the toys most parents mentioned as the most memorable from their childhood are in fact still around and are seen as current favorites among their children as well. Unaided, the toys they brought up as being favorites for both boys and girls were Legos. Legos are seen as “classic” for their ability to entertain across ages and gender. There was a higher appreciation of Legos for their ability to promote the use of the imagination; parents tended to like the toys that foster communication, pretend play, and general educational stimulation. Legos also have the additional benefit of being reused by siblings and throughout childhood.

My youngest likes to play with dolls and stuffed animals. She also enjoys Legos. She likes her dolls and stuffed animals because she can play a parent. Legos let’s her use her imagination. She can build sets with included instructions or make her own design. – Female, 36, IA, children aged 10, 13, 16

So, What Makes a Toy “GREAT?”

Overall, a toy is considered to be a great one when it is…

  • Durable
  • Unique
  • Holds attention for several years
  • Emphasizes creativity or development

The parents we spoke to are looking for toys that interest all children in the household and promote communication, physical interaction with the toy or with others, and imagination. They also place a premium on finding their children original toys with which to make lasting memories, rather than more disposable or “fad” franchise toys. And although electronics like tablets or video games are appealing and fun, the parents in our study felt they didn’t require as much manual input from children and, thus, parents tend to limit the amount of time their child interacts with electronics.

Toys are more interactive now. A lot of them take the imagination out of it. Action figures used to have a little plastic gun, now they have this HUGE oversized gun that actually fires projectiles. Or everything has lights, and sounds… kinda takes the creativity out of it. – Male, 42, MO, children aged 5, 8

Next, we dug a little deeper and also asked about packaging preferences. Overall, parents are seeking clarity when it comes to communications on the packaging of all toys. They want to see things like age ranges, operating requirements, number of pieces and amount of assembly required, along with the actual toy itself (clear cellophane or vivid illustration/photo). Respondents mentioned that the use of bold, bright colors on a package can suggest excitement and fun. On the other hand, the packaging should always be easy to open, which may not come as a surprise to anyone, but several parents mentioned aggravation at wasteful packaging and the need to use tools to open some toys.

I love it when packaging is fairly minimal and recyclable; it drives me crazy when there’s 10 pounds of plastic to throw away after I get a toy out of a box. – Female, 30, IL, children aged 1, 4

Considerations Moving Forward

Based on our research, toy manufacturers might consider marketing communications emphasizing:

  • Durability
  • Adaptability
  • Educational or Developmental Benefits
  • Interactivity and Input from the User
  • The Merging of Technology / Electronics with Tangible Opportunities for Creative Input

Being able to quickly reach a specified audience to get answers to our questions and uncover additional insights to areas we hadn’t even thought of helped open the door to future research strategies and provided our team with some new avenues to explore.

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