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There’s no time to play around in the toys retail industry. With markets becoming saturated, bricks and mortar giants failing, and digital competition at an all-time high, selling toys definitely isn't child's play. To meet today’s challenges, retailers are turning to 3D to help reinvent how and where toys are sold.

How technology is transforming toys retail

Times are changing in the global toys industry, especially for traditional retailers. For decades, big-box retailers used to stack toys up high from floor to ceiling, inviting customers to pluck them from the shelves. But the spectacular 2017 collapse of Toys “R” Us revealed that stores crammed with toys are no longer the ticket to success.

Toys “R” Us was forced to close down most of its once-ubiquitous stores, leaving competitors like Walmart and Target to clean up. But many operators are also struggling to sell toys at bricks and mortar locations as buyers flock to the more competitive e-market - where 33% of toy and game sales in the USA were made last year.

Notably, the rise of Amazon has mirrored the fall of physical toy stores. With a mix of vast product ranges, rapid delivery, constant deals, and convenience for parents, Amazon is a formidable competitor. But the issue for this industry is more than just retail outlets. From 2018 to 2020, the US toys market fell by 4%. Major brands suffered as well, with Hasbro sales falling 12% and Mattel experiencing an 8% dip.

Looking behind these figures, the shift from stores to online retail cuts down on those impulse buys, while wider economic woes such as supply disruptions and price inflation dampen purchasing appetite for new toys. As a result, legendary brands like LEGO, Hasbro, and Mattel and retailers like Walmart of the reborn Toys “R” Us will have to evolve. And are already adapting by offering experiences that old-fashioned stores never could.

How major retailers are meeting the digital challenge

1. Interactive eCommerce

Interacting with toys via AR helps to build brand loyalty

Above all, digital technologies like 3D visualization and augmented reality (AR) allow retailers to adapt to changing consumer behavior. Modern customers, no matter how little they are, value the opportunity to play with 3D models and explore how toys look and function. AR also allows retailers to tell stories about their products, creating memories and building brand loyalty.

Big box toy retailers have a couple of strategies – with Walmart opting for 3D eCommerce to sell toys online and Target rethinking physical stores. Both take interactivity into new areas, making toys eCommerce a more empowering, enjoyable experience. 

Walmart's Online Toy Lab is a great example. Instead of stores packed with row after row of toys, the Toy Lab presents a selection of 20 toys for children and parents to manipulate.

3D models of these specially selected toys can be virtually “unboxed” – a feature that mimics popular unboxing videos. They can be rotated through 360 degrees or seen up close or in action. And if the toy strikes a chord with users, parents can instantly add them to a wish list for easy purchasing at the Walmart online toy store.

Target's online store also capitalized on the fall of Toys “R” Us. In fact, the company now partners with the Tru Kids Brand which runs the successor company to the bankrupt retailer, offering a revamped retail experience. Smaller retail locations feature relatively few products. The focus is now on interactivity, with features built around popular toy brands like Nerf shooting ranges and in-store tree houses.

In-store digital touchpads and app portals combine with staff expertise, providing a way to access a far wider library of toys. And if customers want to buy something stored off-site, Target’s online store makes fulfillment simple.

2. 3D printing

3D printed toys allow the kids to unleash their creative potential

3D technology isn’t just being used to browse 3D models at online toy stores. One of the most exciting developments in modern toy retail has been the emergence of on-demand 3D printing. This lets kids choose their own 3D designs (or even craft their own), before printing them on special devices without leaving their homes.

Toybox is a market leader with its popular 3D printer and feedstock products. Customers buy the raw materials needed to create children's toys and then search the online store for templates on the Toybox catalog. Designs are totally free, and they can be sourced from creative 3D modelers with ease.

It’s easy to imagine brands incorporating 3D printing into an online toy store. From superhero-themed vehicles and accessories for doll’s houses to add-ons for board games, plenty of toys can be printed at low cost. Kids and parents can choose exactly what they want – a perfect match for the trend towards flexibility and consumer choice.

3. Influencer marketing and live streaming

3D viewers or printing services can be complemented by innovative marketing campaigns, which is an area where today’s most successful toy companies thrive.

There’s no doubting the power of social media influencers. Just take a look at Ryan’s World, a YouTube channel that specializes in videos of kids' toys being unboxed. The channel has built an audience of more than 20 million and even branched out to sell toys of its own.

Although not every toy brand has the ability to rise to that kind of popularity, Mattel had a creative idea to exploit the power of social media to boost online sales. Instead of commissioning content creators to promote their toys, Mattel turned Barbie into an influencer in her own right.

Whether toy retailers choose to partner with independent influencers or position themselves as social media personalities, it’s impossible to ignore YouTube, TikTok, or Twitch when marketing to this targeted audience. 

4. Using print media in new ways

AR provides new ways to link online store portals with everyday buyers

With bricks and mortar retail failing, you might assume that physical catalogs would be struggling too? Not quite. The rise of smartphones and AR apps have coincided with a minor renaissance for print, providing new ways to link online store portals with everyday buyers.

In 2018, Amazon created a 68-page toy catalog that found its way into millions of homes. Readers could scan QR codes beside toys to access product information and make online store purchases, a method that some customers prefer compared to searching on the web.

Other online toy stores have followed Amazon's lead. For instance, Walmart regularly issues Christmas catalogs for buying toys online which connect toy listings with the company's eCommerce site.

5. Linking AR toys to apps and retail channels

Toy companies have also started to find ways to connect their retail operations like never before. In the process, they can encourage customers to make regular online store purchases, tell compelling stories, and provide more content for toy users to enjoy.

For example, LEGO has created LEGO AR Studio with ARKit, which turns six LEGO sets into AR experiences. When the sets are complete, the studio adds effects like fire hoses or dragon attacks. The app links customers back to the LEGO app for online shopping, encouraging them to explore more.

Playing with 3D and AR to achieve toy retail success

The demand of connected toys keeps on skyrocketing

Toys retail has a bright future. After all, kids aren’t going to stop playing and learning, and parents will invariably seek enjoyable experiences or educational toys for their children to enjoy.

However, how and which toys are sold will continue to evolve. Some types of toys will thrive while others struggle. For instance, conversion rates of so-called “connected toys” that mix apps, gaming systems, and accessories like drones are rising, while action figure sales are slowly dropping.

Whether you make teddy bears or resell vintage toys like model trains, one thing is certain: innovative retailers will likely win, while slow-movers may fail. As we’ve seen, many of the most promising marketing ideas revolve around augmented reality and 3D product visualization – two areas where sellers can make rapid progress with the right help.

ARsenal by CGTrader can turn your toy designs into 3D models for digital retail, 3D printing catalogs, product viewers, Snapchat filters, or smartphone games. Find ways to tell stories and capture attention, and go beyond old-style eCommerce.

Get in touch today and talk to our team. We’ll help you create 3D content that’s impossible to resist.

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How to Sell Toys With Creative 3D and AR Experiences

Lara Oliveira is a Content Manager at ARsenal. With over a decade of experience writing across corporates and startups, she is now focused on helping companies innovate with 3D and AR technology. Reach out to her at pr@cgtrader.com to talk about possible content collaborations!

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