Play ‘n Purchase Experiences





                                                A few weeks have passed and I have had some time to reflect on this year's New York Toy Fair.  In doing so, I have noticed some contrasts with toy stores.  All business, part entertainment, Toy Fair exhibitors demonstrated product and invited buyers to play, and most importantly, have fun.  If they could not get you to laugh, smile, or enjoy yourself in the process of selling, they did not do their job successfully.  One might ask why we do not see this degree of excitement and enthusiasm at the consumer level.  Certainly, the same types of products are being sold.  Providing an exciting atmosphere for Toy Fair buyers was crucial to creating buzz and selling product.  What can be done at the store level to promote product with this more hands-on, in-your-face approach and keep customers coming back for more?

To draw a rough comparison, I recently visited Universal Studios, Orlando and had the opportunity to see kids and adults interacting in playful settings.  I observed firsthand how fantastical, larger-than-life environments provided mood altering, memory-making experiences that turned park goers into product purchasers.

CastleThe thrill of flying through Harry Potter's world, the whimsy of Seuss Landing and Toon Town, the exaggerated scale of the Simpsons, and the sensation of encountering a ‘disaster’ – these participatory venues created tangible experiences that literally had park goers craving mementos of their experience.  Interestingly, some of the best-selling, most desirable product was not cheap.  A Harry Potter wand, (a basic stick in a simple box) was $30; capes were $100.  The lines to purchase these items were outrageously long, yet consumers were willing to endure them for the opportunity to buy their favorites.  

While standing in line for the Spiderman ride, I noticed a young boy playing on the floor.  A variety of dinosaur and robot-like characters had been strategically placed on the ground and he was 'circling' them.  After several revolutions, he would scoop down and swipe or smash them.  When asked what he was doing, he exclaimed that he was bigger, like the dinosaurs in the park, and would destroy THEM!  He was playing in an environment with larger-than-life props, mechanisms, visuals and sounds; an environment larger than a product purchase.


OwlPostStore How many stores today actually create a fantastical atmosphere and invite consumers to participate in something larger than a purchase?  Build A Bear Workshops, Club Libby Lu, and American Girl are examples of toy stores that engage consumers in a fun, creative atmosphere and activity and ultimately create more desire for their product.  Exaggerated scale cartoon characters, fantasy settings, mascots, sounds, and interactive play areas can also contribute to creating an unforgettable Play 'n Purchase experience.

Whether toys and games are purchased for fun, educational purposes, gifts, or on impulse, most will ultimately create some type of memory.  Why not have the store experience be a contributing factor?  The next time there is occassion to purchase a toy or game, customers will think back to that unforgettable experience they had while shopping at that unforgettable store. 

2 thoughts

  1. You pretty much described the experience that is to be had in local, family-owned specialty toy stores.
    The “play-purchase” experience comes down to consciously choosing to create a memory-making destination rather than just a product source. Specialty retailers have a “human” factor – they’re there, they’re engaged. Their playful personality is part of the store environment. That can’t be had in larger retailers where “play products” is just one department.
    I’ve visited and studied hundreds of toy stores of all shapes and sizes in the last four years as I launch my family game company. I’ve observed the incredible efforts and human personality that go into creating the unique atmospheres that set these stores apart from the big box experience, and from one another.
    We are lucky enought to have at least ten specialty stores around my hometown of Cincinnati. (That’s an unusually high number per capita compared to similar cities by the way!) Each one offers a play experience that is different from the other and that larger retailers can’t begin to rival. I recently wrote down my thoughts about what sets each one apart. You can read about them by clicking on my name below.

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