An Exclusive Report from The Toy Association

by Laurie Chartorynsky, communications specialist and content developer, The Toy Association

How can toy manufacturers and retailers evolve to attract new toy consumers? The Toy Association’s recently released report, “Toy Manufacturing and Retail Solutions—the Future,” explores fresh ideas for the industry to innovate around who is playing, what truly defines a toy, and what play is in order to capitalize on the changing landscape.

Toy companies face new realities, including shifting consumer preferences and technological advances, which are redefining the nature of a toy and how kids play. Given the advent of the omnichannel shopper, retailers have to adjust to consumer demand for interactive shopping experiences, as low prices alone are not enough to draw and keep customers. The Toy Association’s report—the second in the series in which the Association commissioned ProdigyWorks and its exclusive network of creative thinkers and experts—delivers ideas as to how the industry can adapt for future success.

“Change in the toy industry is inevitable and necessary,” says Ken Seiter, executive vice president of marketing communications at The Toy Association. “Our most recent thought leadership work with ProdigyWorks suggests new ways for toymakers to create groundbreaking and engaging playthings that appeal to kids and enthusiasts of all ages and new avenues for retailers to capture these customers.”

Selected from more than 200 ideas by ProdigyWork’s futurists, the report identifies five emerging themes: “A Toy Diaspora,” “Everybody Plays,” “Experiences,” “Speaking to Consumer Values,” and “Looking Beyond the Thing: Service Opportunities,” as well as 12 key opportunities for manufacturers and retailers to respond to these themes.

“Finding new opportunities and successes in the toy marketplace means rethinking the purposes and benefits of toys, technology in toys, how toys are sold, and so on,” according to the report. Retailers and manufacturers must do more to offer consumers new ways to discover and purchase the toys they want.

Here is a closer look at the five themes and potential solutions for manufacturers and retailers to activate:

• A Toy Diaspora: Digital technology, social trends, and e-commerce are creating a new ecosystem for toys, resulting in new places, occasions, and mechanisms for toy promotion and retail. These include mobile toy stores and pop-up retail experiences; airport playrooms, which can act as showrooms of curated toy collections with options to purchase; geocaching or scavenger hunt-like experiences using GPS to build product and brand excitement (think Pokémon Go); and interactive toy wishbooks. These opportunities all offer flexibility and low-cost ways for both manufacturers and retailers to introduce new products and reach niche buyers.

• Everybody Plays: Toys can benefit not only the young, but also consumers of all ages who want to play and enjoy fun experiences. Opportunities within this theme include a “toys for life” approach to products, where a toy uses technology to adapt and change as kids enter various life stages. It also includes examples of multigenerational toys, games, and playgrounds that encourage older adults to stay physically and intellectually active.

• Experiences: Experiences can delight or surprise consumers, or enlighten them on the meaning behind the purchases they make. Taking a page from Crayola or Hershey, toy manufacturers can conceive theme park-like factories that allow guests to learn and experience how and where a toy is made—resulting in a deeper connection to the plaything and its brand. Another option is toy retail makerspaces allowing consumers to create their own toy design with the tools and resources provided.

• Speaking to Consumer Values: Today’s consumers are conscious of waste, harm, resources, gender concerns, and more. How the industry addresses these values and concerns must change—not only in the actual product design, but also in the branding of the toy. Opportunities in this theme include biodegradable toys and creating neighborhood toy exchanges.

• Looking Beyond the Thing—Service Opportunities: The toy sector can combine services with product to expand its offerings, including toy subscriptions, rental services, and business-to-business (and business-to-consumer) cleaning services for toys.

“Successfully moving into a new era can only happen if toy companies and retailers are willing to step out of the box and address a new normal for the market,” Seiter says. “The ideas in the ProdigyWorks report will help the toy community explore innovation and capitalize on the unique opportunity presented to our industry.”

The Toy Association commissioned ProdigyWorks to determine how the toy industry will look over the next decade and to explore transformational ideas about toys and play. “Toy Manufacturing and Retail Solutions—the Future,” complements a first phase completed early last year. At the time, ProdigyWorks concluded that the industry has significant opportunity to redefine toys and play for the next generation, and shared its findings in “The Future Toy Consumer and Toy Retail Ecosystem, Part I & Part II.” A third report exploring STEM/STEAM opportunities in toys and play will be available in the coming months.

The full reports are available for free to all Toy Association members at


Laurie Chartorynsky has been a member of The Toy Association’s communications team since September 2016. At The Toy Association, she is responsible for the weekly e-newsletter Toy News Tuesday, and writes articles based on the latest trends in the toy industry for trade publications. Chartorynsky has a Master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.