Monday, February 4, 2008

My Theory on the Impact of Product Reviews on Toy Shopping

I have 2 young children – ages 6 and 3. Toy shopping is an interesting experience, because as much as parents complain that they spend a fortune on toys, if you look you’ll see that most toys are relatively cheap. Barbie bliss or Hot Wheel heaven can be achieved for less than $15 – cheaper than a movie or the zoo, when it comes down to it, and it lasts longer (usually). And when you have several out of state relatives that all send gift cards, it actually can be challenging to spend it all in one go. I realize this will change as electronics get added to the wish list, but for now, the toy budget goes a long way for us.

The trade-off against the cheapness comes with the quality of the toy. I’m not talking about breakage or even lead paint. I’m talking about the difference between a toy that sticks and a toy the kids play with once and then get more fun out of just playing with the box. As a parent, you buy a lot of cheap toys and hope for a success rate – where a toy is truly loved and played with all the time – of say, 2 out of every 5 toys purchased.

Product reviews, however, change the game. When I’m shopping for birthday or Christmas presents, I ALWAYS read the reviews (assuming they’re available). When shopping for toys, product reviews help me sort through which toys are going to stick and which ones probably won’t. And I have to say, so far that’s worked out really well. In fact, it’s probably raised my hit rate on toys that stick from 2/5 to more like 4/5. And when you get that kind of improvement in success rate, you don’t need to buy so many toys.

Does that mean we’ll see a decline in toy sales as more and more parents catch on to this money-saving tip? I doubt it – a significant portion of our toy budget still goes to buying other kids’ birthday presents, and other than a glance to see what my kids really like, I don’t honestly spend that much time researching those toys – and my kids get a lot of say in picking out birthday presents for their friends, and they’re not exactly savvy online shoppers just yet. But it does mean an interesting thing for toy manufacturers. If parents hash your toy, you better think about how to change it to address the complaints. Because Hot Wheels isn’t competing against Matchbox for my toy money – it’s competing with every toy ever made, and thanks to my fellow parents, I have enough information to make sure that I only pick the best.