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Black Friday is losing its luster among toy-buying parents

Games and puzzles have soared in popularity during the lockdown, but parents preparing for the busy holiday toy-buying season expect to purchase fewer gifts overall this year, especially on Black Friday.

Almost half of parents surveyed by Parent Tested Parent Approved, a Canadian group that allows consumers to test and rank toy brands, said they won’t buy as many presents this holiday season because there will be fewer celebrations. More than 70% don’t plan to visit stores on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when retailers heavily discount their products.

The responses reflect trends that major toy companies are already seeing. Parents are snapping up classic games and puzzles to enjoy at home, but families are having fewer social encounters that might spur other kinds of purchasing. And shopping this year is starting earlier and on the web, posing a new challenge for retailers used to moving truckloads of toys on Black Friday.

“Typically when we do these surveys, we find that 90% or higher say they are doing their holiday shopping on Black Friday,” Sharon Vinderine, founder and chief executive officer of PTPA, said in a phone interview. The lack of interest this time around was “shocking.”

This year’s toy-buying trends can all be linked to coronavirus. Locked in isolation, people purchased so many simple card games and jigsaw puzzles that retailers reported shortages. While toymakers have mostly resolved Covid-related supply-chain disruptions, low-tech entertainment options that promote physical activity, family bonding or imagination have continued to reign supreme.

Low Tech

Last week, Mattel Inc. reported Barbie doll sales jumped about 20% in the third quarter from a year earlier, while the manufacturer of Rubik’s Cubes said this week it may sell an extra 2 million of the popular toy in 2020. In the PTPA survey, conducted in mid-October, more than 60% of 2,180 respondents said they’d avoid buying their kids products with screens this holiday season.

“Typically the manufacturers are putting out the highest-tech products at this time; that’s what’s being promoted,” Vinderine said. “This year, that has to be different. Parents have zero interest in it.”

At the same time, holiday purchases may slide overall. Parents surveyed by PTPA said they are more budget-conscious than normal this year, with the U.S. still experiencing high unemployment. Typically consumers wait until Black Friday and buy up gifts to dole out at gatherings for the next month, Vinderine said.

But only 5.6% of parents in the survey said they’d be buying more gifts in 2020. About 48% are purchasing fewer gifts, and 47% expect to buy the same amount. Of those who plan to buy less, almost all said they want to bolster their savings.

Parents surveyed said they’re happy there’s less pressure to spend in 2020. About 60% said they felt “relief” there won’t be as many holiday gatherings.

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