Big Story: Hamley’s, the world’s biggest toy Store, goes gender neutral

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Whether Hamley’s is the world’s biggest toy store is open to debate, but this London based, seven story behemoth, certainly is in competition for the honor.  One could anticipate that this 130 year old company would be too conservative to change  the way it markets toys but that is not the case.  It has gone gender neutral.

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According to Toys n’ Playthings: “… after pressure from feminist groups, the toy store has had to change its signage. Now the signs are white with red lettering. In addition, the toys have been reorganized by toy-type rather than the gender which is traditionally expected to play with it.”

I have long felt that any changes in how we market and merchandise toys will have to start at retail.  Who thought it would be one of the world’s oldest toy stores that will lead the way.  It appears that the changes were either the result of a campaign by a blogger named Laura Nelson or Hamley’s own decision that its current signage was confusing.  After reading several articles on the subject, it looks to me that despite Hamley’s protestations, they were pushed by what appears to have been an aggressive campaign against what Nelson calls “gender apartheid” in the toy department.

Gallery-Childrens-toys-Ha-017I checked out Nelson’s BlogSpot, Delilah, and there I found a summary of the letter she had sent to Hamely’s and what she says caused the changes.  She says that she:

  • Requested they categorize toys by interest (type of toy), not by gender
  • Pointed out that on the girls’ floor, the toys are focused on domestic, caring and beauty activities and the boys’ floor is geared to action and war, with little scope for creativity (arts and crafts)

  • Said that gender stereotypes in toys are highly influential and pervasive, and influence children’s and parents’ choices, aspirations and expectations. These different toys also promote the development of certain skills and encourage boys and girls to pursue activities that are consistent with the gender stereotypes we see in our society generally (women in passive, caring and homemaking roles; men in active, leading and aggressive roles).
  • Told them about a group of schoolchildren Sweden in 2008 who wrote to Toys ‘R’ Us and persuaded it to change, The Early Learning Centre in the UK which similarly responded to such complaints from Pinkstinks in 2009 and WH Smiths, which agreed to abandon its use of the term ‘women’s fiction’.
  • Whether Hamley’s was pushed or jumped is ultimately beside the point.  They have decided to make the change and that will have an impact. 

    The key is what will happen as a result of the changes.  Does Hamley’s business go up or down; do certain categories increase or decline in sales; in other words is gender neutral good for business, bad for business or neutral?  If it is good for business or even neutral, look for this to spread.

     A special thanks to Nancy Davies of Interplay for bringing this to my attention.

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