The holiday toy shopping season is already pre-heating. Retailers are releasing out their toy lists, the Toy Association has put out its top toys of the year, and we at RetailMeNot are trying to keep on top of this year’s toy trends.
And the toy aisle just keeps getting better, thanks to technological innovations we wish we had as kids but are also perhaps a little confused by.
To help shoppers navigate the latest in toy tech and find the best toy shopping strategies for 2023, we reached out to Nelo Lucich, CEO and co-founder of Skyrocket, a toy company makes the gel-blasting guns, maneuverable stunt planes and magical toy pets your kids (and our inner child!) really want this year.
We talked about how toys need to strike a balance between “technologically cool” and “doing too much,” as well as how we’re no longer in the era of the “it” toy (so, parents: no need to relive the Magic Mixie trauma this year).
RetailMeNot: Which toys from Skyrocket do you wish you had as a kid?
Actually, almost everything we make! One of the cool things about having a toy company is that you get to make whatever you want. And our focus is on tech driving innovation.
Our Faction line of gel bead-blasters is awesome. I would have loved to have those. And our Vector Plane is amazing. It flies 35 miles an hour. You feel like you’re a Top Gun pilot. Our stuff is really cool this year.
RetailMeNot: Toys are really cool right now, but a lot of toys have some pretty involved instruction manuals and make us feel a bit old. What’s the balance between a toy having cool features but not being too complicated to be fun?
Earlier on, we would tend to have a kitchen sink’s worth of features and keep adding more and more and more. And we realized a lot of that stuff was too complicated. Consumers weren’t getting it. Nobody understood what the products did because they did everything.
So we keep it now to two or three really cool features. Making things intuitive is really important. The technology should be seamless and bring a magic to the toy. But it shouldn’t be something you have to figure out. It should just work.
The plane’s a good example. There’s a one-sheet quick-start guide you can read, and you’re flying. If you have to read a 10-page manual before you even try a toy, that’s not fun.
And the gel bead blasters have this cloud connectivity where you can create games for all your friends and connect online, but everything still works without the app. You can just take it out of the box and play with it.
RetailMeNot: With consumers getting hammered by inflation all year, is there room in budgets for toys, especially pricier tech-heavy ones?
Value is super important. Our challenge is we do a lot of stuff that’s higher priced. We have to make the product exciting so that you really want it and it’s compelling enough you’re willing to make that your big gift of the year.
Our gel blasters are priced the same as the comparable brands for each model, but we give you a target beacon with it so you can play by yourself. So we’re not giving you the cheapest price, but we’re giving you the most value.
In other categories, you do have price-conscious options, like the Magic Whispers kitty. It’s targeted for girls, and it’s a cat with a bone-conduction speaker in it. You put it to your head and you can hear it, but nobody else can. The child gets to feel like they have a special connection with their pet. They can talk to it and nobody else can. And it’s $25 retail. So it’s got this cool technological feature, but it’s at a low price point.
RetailMeNot: There still seems to be an appetite for experiential “revenge” spending. Where does that leave material items like toys?
You’re spending $150 to take the whole family to a movie and get all the snacks. It’s crazy. A lot of these toys, you play together with people. The Faction line is all about playing with friends and family. Same with the drones. They’re an outdoor toy. I think the pandemic is fading from peoples’ memories now, and a lot of the trends are turning more to the baseline. Things have definitely changed, but I think the buying patterns and categories of what people are buying has kind of gone back to normal, and some of the categories impacted negatively have improved.
RetailMeNot: What are some of the toy trends parents should be aware of this year?
Gel blasters are a big trend. Gel beads blasters came out maybe 12 months ago and blew up on TikTok. It was all organic. There were a couple videos posted, and all of a sudden the category blew up overnight. We couldn’t keep up with demand. That’s still a really hot category.
RetailMeNot: Do parents have to worry about a super-hot toy selling out this year?
I think everything is so fragmented you’re not seeing singular toys stand out the way they did in the past. In the past, you’d have this one must-have product, but we haven’t had that in a while.
Things are more spread out and there are so many products catering to every interest, and I think there’s just more now. Everyone consumes media differently. Everyone can be catered to because there are so many avenues to reach specific audiences.
RetailMeNot: What makes a toy timeless, regardless of how many bells and whistles it has?
You can explain it in one sentence. You immediately understand what the product does. If you give the elevator pitch and people get it, that’s the right formula.
And toys have to be fun. When a kid sees it and gets to play with it, it has to be exciting. Gel blasters are very much that. They hit so fast and hard and are better than what you expect. You get one and you’re like, “Man that’s cool,” instantly. You have to feel that excitement immediately.
RetailMeNot: OK now we’re intrigued by the gel blasters. What’s so great about them, and do they really not make a mess?
The little kids are playing with Nerf, but with the older kids, the gel blasters have ammo you don’t need to reload. With Nerf, you have to pick up the darts all over the house. You spend a lot of time not shooting darts, but picking up darts. Whereas the gel beads disintegrate on impact. They’re made of this polymer that’s environmentally safe. It was developed by the Department of Agriculture as a soil additive to retain water in soil. The filling in diapers is the same gel.
Basically, you shoot them, they’re small, they explode on impact, there’s no mess. And the ammo is cheap. You can buy 20,000 in ammo for $10. You spend more time actually playing and less time picking up darts.
RetailMeNot: When should parents start shopping for toys this year? Early? Wait until the last minute for extra deals?
It cuts both ways. If you want to make sure you’re going to get something and your child must have it, shop early because who knows what’s going to happen. Will it be out of stock?
Retailers are being more conservative with stock this year. Coming out of the pandemic, retail ate a lot of inventory and ended up carrying huge amounts of inventory, so they’re not trying to do that again. So if it’s a new hot toy, there might not be enough stock. If you buy late though, you might get a good deal. And then there are the big-push sales, those buying moments like Black Friday. You just have to watch the price. When you see it on a great sale, buy it. As soon as you see that sale price, buy it!
RetailMeNot: Any other advice for parents? Holiday toy shopping can be a lot of pressure.
Be wary of buying products if you’re not sure of the source. A lot of people will buy from eBay or a retailer’s marketplace. You might not get the right products, or even a safe product. So you’re better buying from the retailers directly to make sure you get a safe and functional product.
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