Something's New in Toyland

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As the holidays approach, here are Four Forecasts for the Future of Toys.

"Toys today are designed for tech-savvy children who are growing up faster than their parents did, and tire of their toys more quickly," says Chris Carbone, author of a recent report on the future of toys, published by the global futurist research and consulting firm, Social Technologies.

"In this environment, toymakers face both opportunities for growth and the challenges of quickly shifting tastes and trends," Carbone adds.

Driving the change
Carbone explains that a variety of social and technological factors will continue to drive changes in toys and youth leisure in the years ahead, including:

  •     Delayed maternity. Parents are having children later in life, when discretionary spending power is usually greater. Although this delays childrearing, the higher disposable incomes of new parents will likely increase overall spending on toys.
  •     More indulgent grandparents. By 2010 the total number of grandparents in the US will swell to 80 million, according to a recent study by AARP, which also found that those proud grands spend an average of $500 per grandchild annually. Of those dollars, 76 percent is spent on toys.
  •     Age compression. Childhood is more compressed than in the past, meaning kids are playing with toys designed for older children earlier and earlier. "In many cases, kids give up their playthings in exchange for more grown-up accessories like iPods and mobile phones," says Carbone.
  •     Falling technology prices. A new class of "youth electronics" is being developed, leading to the introduction of working toy digital cameras, videocameras, and projectors that display videogames on a blank wall -- similar to the high-tech toys parents use.

Four forecasts
What does all that mean for the future of toys? Carbone offers a series of forecasts for the future of toys in the report, including these three:

  •     The line between toys and learning will begin to blur. Developmental toys will abound, making the line between learning and leisure less clear. Consider that the preschool learning category accounted for $2.8 billion of the $20.2 billion US toy industry in 2004. Growth in this sector is likely to continue, driven by demanding and involved parents and grandparents.

Educational gaming, too, will go mainstream, Carbone believes. "While still a niche market, educational videogames are gaining attention and will increasingly be used as a teaching tool both in schools and at home. It's all about speaking to these digital natives in their own language."

  •     Sensors will make toys interactive. Toys will increasingly be able to sense and respond to their environments and their owners, becoming more interactive. "In the longer term, advanced sensors and software intelligence will help shift robotic toys from being playthings to actual playmates for kids," says Carbone.
  •     Ethical consumption will have an effect on toys. Ethical consumption integrates personal values into purchasing choices, Carbone explains. "Rather than focusing solely on standard consumer variables such as price, quality and convenience, buyers consider ethical, religious, political and other beliefs in their decisions."

Ethical consumption is already impacting a variety of sectors, from food to finance to clothing. Toys will not be immune to this trend, and Carbone forecasts this trend will become more mainstream in the coming years and that consumers will see more "green" toys made from environmentally friendly and recycled materials as well as more "fair trade" toys.

Learn more
Want to hear about Carbone's other forecasts and find out more about their business implications? Contact hope.gibbs@socialtechnologies.com to set up an interview.

About Chris Carbone
Chris Carbone is the director of programs at Social Technologies, coordinating such initiatives as the Futures Consortium, Futures Expeditions, and Futures Observatory. He has worked in research and consulting since 1996, serving a variety of corporate and government clients, contributing his talents to diverse multiclient and custom futures projects, and researching and authoring dozens of reports and scenarios. Chris' areas of inquiry in the past few years include environmental sustainability, emerging technologies, opportunities in the automotive industry, and the future of global consumer lifestyles. Before joining S)T, Chris worked for the futures firm Coates & Jarratt as a researcher and analyst. Chris has an MBA from Johns Hopkins University with a concentration in marketing. Areas of expertise: Advertising and marketing, demography and aging, environment and sustainability, consumer lifestyles.

About ) Social Technologies
Social Technologies is a global research and consulting firm specializing in the integration of foresight, strategy, and innovation. With offices in Washington DC, London, and Shanghai, Social Technologies serves the world's leading companies, government agencies, and nonprofits. A holistic, long-term perspective combined with actionable business solutions helps clients mitigate risk, make the most of opportunities, and enrich decision-making. For information visit http://www.socialtechnologies.com, our blog: http://changewaves.socialtechnologies.com , and our newsletter: http://www.socialtechnologies.com/changewaves.

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