NPD releases “The Evolution of Play” report

Published on: 2nd July 2013

The latest report from The NPD Group examines a variety of factors in a changing environment for play, toy purchasing and shopping habits.npd_bkgd_logo300

At the top of most people’s minds is the impact electronic devices have had on children’s play time with traditional play items. NPD noted that almost 40% of parents felt their child is spending less time with traditional toys, while just over half (51%) said the devices had no impact at all.

Not surprisingly, as kids get older, the impact of technology becomes more important in terms of time spent with more traditional playtime items. In fact, younger children who use technology are still more likely to be requesting traditional toys, and their use of devices is perceived to have little effect on play time with toys.

Russ Crupnick, senior vice president of industry analysis at The NPD Group, said: “Everyone has anecdotes of seeing little ones on a plane or restaurant grasping a tablet and being completely absorbed in a television show or game, but that behavior is not replacing playing with a car, doll or construction set. Where the impact begins is with older kids who become more sophisticated with using these devices to socialize, or for apps, music and video; all of which draw time and attention from more traditional play items.”

Among the parents who say they spent less money on any type of play item for their kids over the past year, 54% cited the economy and less disposable income, compared with only 24% who called out a shift to technology spend.

Russ added: “One traditional play time industry, the toy industry, has been deeply concerned that technology spend and focus is drawing wallet share from traditional toys. Although some of that might be occurring, we must also recognise that play spend for many families is also affected by unemployment, under-employment, and stagnant income growth.”

According to the report, heavy spenders on technology products (those spending $200 or more a year) are actually the most engaged traditional toy buyers, and are more likely to shop most toy categories and spend more when they do make a purchase. For example, heavy tech buyers are nearly 40% more likely to also buy action figures, and when they do, they spend 60% more per capita. This pattern held for most toy categories.

Perhaps the most important message from the study was that parents crave balance between the world of devices and apps, and the tradition of toys. Parents were unequivocal in praising electronic devices for their educational potential and for helping children to build skills. However, they are equally concerned that too much technology could make their kids lazy, foster unhealthy solitary experiences, or lead to “over-connectedness”. While parents are promoters of technology, they also believe children should play in traditional ways and that toys offer a unique “touch and feel” experience that technology cannot offer.

Russ commented: “This is a valuable marketing message for the toy industry. Virtual play and traditional play can, and need to, coexist so that children can develop broader skill sets. This creates opportunities for both integrated products and very distinct traditional toys. Parents get that; they crave it, and marketed accordingly, we’d expect most consumers to respond to such a message.”

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