Marketing toys to kids and affordability to parents

Barbie and Mario still reign supreme on holiday wish lists, but major retailers must offer lower-priced options to appease inflation-conscious parents.

October 11, 2023
  • James Cook

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One billion Barbies and counting

In 1959, Ruth Handler launched a new kind of fashion doll at the American International Toy Fair in New York. It was named after her daughter, Barbara. Roughly 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold that first year and their popularity continued to grow. By 2006 that number exceeded one billion. Today, the scope and global reach of the toy industry is unlike anything Handler could have imagined. 

Barbie was also one of the first toys to be promoted with a blitz of television commercials. Today, global multimedia strategies that include film, music, books, shows, and social media are what make for a successful toy franchise. 

This year, the Barbie film grossed over $1.4 billion in global box office, making it the most successful film of 2023.

And with that success, comes a seemingly unending line of branded merchandise. But with inflation on the rise, many holiday shoppers are pinching pennies, aggravating retailers’ worries that toy spending could decline.

Target and Walmart speak to parents on a budget

Ever since the closure of the original Toys “R" Us chain, mass merchandisers have become the go-to brick-and-mortar destinations for holiday shopping. In fact, 47.6% of holiday shoppers plan to buy gifts at Walmart and 41.8% at Target this year, according to the JLL Holiday Shopping Survey. And with recent announcements, each has made clear that it is ready to appeal to the budget shopper. 

This year’s Bullseye's Top Toys list, which is Target’s pick of what it expects will be the most asked-for toys of the season, is full of kid-favorite intellectual property like LEGO, Star Wars and Barbie. But perhaps of equal appeal to parents is the large selection of top toys under $25, many of which are exclusive to Target. In a recent press release the chain says that this year's list is it's “most affordable ever.” And for its part, Walmart’s 2023 Top Toys list contains more than 25 items priced below $25. 

More Toys “R” Us for us kids

Since Toys “R” Us liquidated its U.S. operations in 2018, many kids and toy lovers have felt the lack. In 2021, with the brand now owned by WHP Global, the void began to be filled. First, came a two-story flagship at American Dream mall in New Jersey. Then, last year saw the opening of a series of Toys “R” Us branded store-in-stores at Macy’s locations, some as large as 10,000 feet.

And this year, WHP Global has announced that it’s partnering with Go Retail Group to open as many as 24 Toys “R” Us stores in the U.S. Shoppers will also soon find Toys “R” Us in airports and on cruise ships. The first of which will be opening at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in November and will be operated by Duty Free Americas.

Contact James Cook

Sr Director, Research - Retail