Why your kids' toys are getting more expensive each year

Why your kids' toys are getting more expensive each year
File photo of shoppers at Takashimaya in December 2015.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

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It's almost impossible to get a popular toy for less than S$50. Why do children's toys in Singapore seem to be more expensive these days?

If you have kids on your gift list, you may have noticed something about how much you spend on toys - it's gone up spectacularly in the past 10 years. Where you once spent only S$15 action figure, these days it's common for toys to approach the $100 range.

Here's why your kids' toys are getting more expensive in Singapore, and what you can do about it: Why are Children's Toys in Singapore Getting More Expensive?

We spoke to someone in the toy business, but unfortunately we're not allowed to disclose names. Nonetheless, you'll be able to connect the dots and see it happening right now. The reason toy prices are going up are:

-Popular toys tend to have expensive licenses

-The line between toys and collectibles have become blurred

-Toy companies have to double as media companies

1. Popular Toys Tend to Have Expensive Licenses

The bestselling toys tend to have expensive licenses. Star Wars, the Avengers, Gundam, and so forth are often the most eagerly anticipated toys.

A toy company could put out a generic laser sword, truck, or robot - it would be a lot cheaper, given they don't need to buy a million dollar license. But there just isn't sufficient demand to justify that. Toys won't sell better just because they're cheaper.

For example, a Spider-Man fan wants a licensed Spider-Man toy, not a generic superhero figure. Even if the difference between the toys is S$80 and S$8, the fan will pick the S$80 option.

As such, toy companies end up producing toys that come with pricey licensing, often from companies like Disney or Paramount. Those high cost licenses get transferred to the buyers, which is why toys these days can reach triple digits in price.

2. The Line Between Toys and Collectibles Have Become Blurred

Toys these days cater to adult collectors as well. The degree of quality and detail that is expected, among the collector crowd, is exceptional. They won't accept even minor flaws like poorly painted eyes on a figure, or a replica vehicle that's doesn't match the one in the movies exactly.

Toy companies do produce toys at separate price ranges: the cheaper ones are meant to be played with, and the more expensive ones are to be kept as collectibles. Even so, the price has risen to match rising expectations in quality.

3. Toy Companies Have to Double as Media Companies

In the 1980s, toy companies discovered something important: they had to double as media companies in order to successfully market their toys. For example, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Masters of the Universe, Transformers, and many other cartoons were created by toy companies, in order to market their product.

The process is lengthy and expensive: toy designers conceptualise the initial product, and then get feedback from children or adults in the right demographic of buyers.

From there, the winning products (the ones that get the best feedback) get sent to writers, artists, and creative directors. The media team then has to invent a whole story or cartoon series to market the toys.

A recent successful example of this was the Ben 10 series, which was created specifically to market the toys. Another famous example is Lego, which even has its own movies.

This means that toy companies are not - as many people believe - just involved in manufacturing physical toys. Most of them are (1) full blown media companies, which employ script writers, graphic designers, sound engineers, and are quite capable of making their own movies if needed, or (2) outsource such functions to professional media companies.

For reasons too long to get into here, costs are rising in the media industry (even as ironically, salaries are falling). It is getting more expensive to make good movies and animation, and this is impacting the toy industry as well. The rising prices of the toys are an indicator of that.

The alternative to being a media company is to buy licenses (see point 1). So a toy company is between the proverbial rock and hard place: they either make their own media to promote the toys, or buy some else's media and make toys based on other people's movies, cartoons, etc. Both methods are expensive.

Where Can Singaporeans Buy Cheaper Toys?

The good news for Singaporean parents is that the toy market is saturated. If you want Star Wars toys, for example, there are probably hundreds of toy companies that have the Star Wars license. If one company's Star Wars toys are too expensive, try another's.

Another piece of advice from our contact is to buy the actual toys, and not the collectible versions. The actual toys are cheaper than collectible counterparts - they may seem less detailed, but these are meant to be played with, and will actually last. Collectibles are not even supposed to be taken out the box, let alone survive vigorous play.

It also helps to hunt for deals on childrens' toys during Black Friday sales. Even a 10 per cent discount can help you maximise your budget for Christmas gifts.

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