China’s Toys and Games Market (1): Purchase Motivations
03 May 2019
Because toys play such an important part in a child’s development, parents take great care to ensure that they buy the right ones for their children. According to a survey  conducted by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) in China, parents’ main motivation when buying toys is to enhance their children’s abilities and intelligence. As a result, the demand for educational toys is larger than that for other toys. The survey also found that to a great extent it is parents who make the decisions about which toys to buy. 94% of the parents surveyed said that they were the main or sole decision makers. While a majority of mainland parents said they were happy to buy toys for their children, they try to strike the right balance between the quantity of toys they buy and the quality, and also between spending on toys and extra-curricular classes. Safety remains the topmost consideration for parents when they are buying toys.
Enhancing Children’s Abilities and Intelligence
Children not only derive enjoyment from playing with toys, they can also learn about the world and develop various abilities in the process. Parents in mainland China attach great importance to their children’s development, possibly because of the relatively low birth rate on the mainland. Many hope their children can learn through playing with toys.
In the survey, 53% of parents cited “building the child’s abilities” as their main reason for buying a toy. 46% chose “helping inspire and enhance the child’s intelligence”, while 37% plumped for “building the child’s character”. With the mainland vigorously promoting science education in recent years, it is perhaps unsurprising that 26% of the parents in the survey said they bought toys to “stimulate the child’s interest in science and related subjects”. “Making the child happy” and “as a gift rewarding the child” were also among the main reasons given for buying toys, being mentioned by 26% and 23% of parents respectively, but did not seem to be considered as important as reasons related to education and development.
Some parents participating in focus group discussions made statements like “to me, a toy is also a learning tool” and “toys should be inspirational so that the child can learn something while playing with them”. In general, parents from different cities agreed with the statement “learning should come before recreation” when asked about what they took into consideration when buying toys.
Changes in Parents’ Purchase Motivations as Children Grow Older
The considerations that parents make when buying toys change depending on how old their children are. When buying toys for children aged below 9, close to half of the parents surveyed attached importance to whether toys can help enhance the child’s intelligence. Only 36% of parents with children aged 9-14, however, cited this as a consideration when buying toys. Parents with older children pay increasing attention to whether toys can stimulate the child’s interest in science and related subjects. 30% of parents surveyed with children aged 9-14 said this was an important factor when buying toys. In the consumer focus group discussions, it became clear that mainland parents generally believe that the age at which children learn and absorb knowledge the fastest is between 5 and 6, and that as a child grows older, he/she should be exposed to scientific knowledge more. This may be due to the active promotion of technology education by mainland China in recent years.
As a child grows older, parents are more likely to buy toys as a gift to reward a child’s efforts. The survey found that parents with children aged below 3 do not often buy toys to reward their children. However, as their children grow older, the proportion of parents buying toys as a reward rises. This shows that as children grow older, their parents’ purchase of toys is increasingly linked to their children’s performance.
Parents Have Final Say
On the mainland, the decision-making power when it comes to buying toys lies primarily with the parents. In the survey, 49% of parents stated that they make all the decisions on which toys to buy, while 45% said that while their children can ask for toys that they like, the parents are the final decision makers. Only 6% of the parents in the survey said that their children have more decision-making power than themselves, and just 1% indicated that they let their children have the full say on which toys to purchase.
However, as a child grows older, he/she will begin proactively making requests about which toys to buy. This first seems to happen among children in the 3-6 age group. The proportion of parents saying that they have total decision-making power over the purchasing of toys drops from 62% among parents with children aged 1.5-3, to 42% among those with children aged 3-6. At a focus group discussion, one parent said: “When my child was younger, most of the time I would guide him and decide on the toys to buy. After my child entered primary school, peer influence set in. He knew more about toys and started asking me to buy them.”
Quality over Quantity
While toys play an important part in a child’s development, they are not daily necessities. When spending money on their children, parents can always opt to buy things like extra-curricular classes, clothing or holidays rather than toys. The survey, therefore, also attempts to ascertain parents’ attitudes to their children’s demand for toys.
The parents surveyed seemed to attach a lot of importance to buying toys. 95% indicated that they would continue to satisfy their children’s demand for toys in order to give their children a happy and pleasant childhood, while 73% said that their spending on toys would not be affected by the uncertain economic outlook. At a focus group discussion, one parent remarked: “We will satisfy our children’s demand for toys even if it means cutting back on our own spending on meals and clothing.”
69% of the parents surveyed said that the quality of toys was more important than the quantity bought. 62% thought that the time and money spent on extra-curricular classes should be greater than that spent on toys. 61% said that as their children grow older, the number of toys bought would be gradually reduced. This suggests that mainland parents have a relatively rational attitude towards spending on toys. They will take into account the functions and quality of toys when making purchase decisions, rather than spending on impulse or buying a large number of toys for their children during sales promotion activities.
Such an analysis however does not mean that parents will cut back on buying higher-priced toys when their children grow older or are participating more in extra-curricular activities. On the contrary, 91% of the parents surveyed indicated that in order to help their children become more competitive as they grow up, they are willing to pay more to buy toys which can help enhance their children’s intelligence and knowledge. In summary, when deciding on which toys to buy for their children, mainland parents will give priority to quality educational toys which appeal to their children because such toys are deemed to provide greater value for money.
Many parents would like to enroll their children in extra-curricular classes to improve their academic performance. Among parents with children aged 9-14, 67% indicated that the time and money spent on extra-curricular classes should be greater than that spent on toys. A parent with an 8-year-old son said: “As my child grows older, he needs to learn a lot more things. So the number of toys and the time spent on playing with them have both decreased”. A large majority of parents of children in all age groups opted for “quality over quantity” and said they believe that “toys should be fewer in number but higher in quality”. Parents’ demand for quality toys looks set to surge.
Safety the Topmost Consideration
While much attention has been paid to educational toys, safety was the leading consideration when buying toys among parents in the survey, with 24% citing it as the main factor they took into account. This was followed by “suitability for the child’s age group” (14%), “international certification” (11%), and “enhancement of the child’s knowledge” (10%).
When asked to pick out their three main consideration factors in buying toys, 44% of parents in the survey mentioned suitability for the child’s age group, 43% opted for safety and 34% cited enhancement of the child’s knowledge. This suggests that mainland parents do not make their purchasing decisions based solely on claims about the toys’ educational function, but carefully assess whether the toys are safe and suitable for their children.
According to the survey, parents in different cities with children of different ages all indicate that they attach importance to whether toys come with international certification. This indicates that as knowledge of international standards increases among mainland parents, the more likely they are to choose toys with international certification in the areas of safety and quality. One respondent remarked: “I read the product label and description when I buy toys to see whether they have received certification and I assess their quality accordingly.”
As children grow older, the importance given by their parents to “safety” and “materials used” as consideration factors declines gradually. Conversely, the importance of brands and whether the toy has a technology or smart element increases. Only 12% of parents with children aged below 1.5 indicated that “containing a technology/smart element” was a main consideration when buying toys, while only 14% thought “brand/word-of-mouth” was important. The percentages rise, however, as the children grow older. As a child grows, he/she gains knowledge and is subject to peer influence, which pushes parents towards buying them toys with a technology or smart element and toys which have a well known brand or are being promoted by word-of-mouth.
As the spending power of mainland consumers has risen, parents have begun to view toys as an indispensable part of a child’s development. Mainland parents put emphasis on their children’s education, and their main motivation when buying toys is to improve their children’s abilities and intelligence. Quality toys with an educational function and which integrate learning and recreation are the ones which they are willing to pay more for. Generally, mainland parents have the greatest influence when it comes to making purchase decisions. Even when children get older and begin to request particular toys, the main decision-making power still rests with the parents. In recent years, mainland parents have increasingly attached importance not only to toy safety, but also to whether toys have gained international certification. Toy traders trying to break into the mainland market should take note of these characteristics to formulate the correct market strategy. They should look to offer safe, quality products which contain an educational element designed to develop children’s abilities. Promoting the product among parents is also important to boost sales.
 Please refer to the “Appendix” for background information on this survey.
In recent years, the rising income levels of mainland consumers have fuelled the rapid growth of China’s toy retail market. At the same time, new types of toys have arrived on the market, with STEM toys, new technology toys and electronic games becoming increasingly popular. It is expected that the full-scale implementation of the two-child policy by the mainland government in 2016 will also propel the growth of the toy market. In light of these developments, HKTDC commissioned a new purchasing behaviour survey on China’s toy shoppers to update the ones it carried out in 2010 and 2014. The aim was to track and assess changes in middle-class consumers’ purchase motivations, price sensitivity, brand preference and other trends. The findings of this survey should provide a useful set of references for Hong Kong companies wishing to tap the mainland toy market.
The survey was carried out between October and December 2018. A total of 2,000 respondents completed the online questionnaire survey. Of these, 1,600 lived in Beijing, Shanghai and six other provincial capital cities, and 400 lived in eight non-provincial capital cities. Before the online questionnaire survey, two focus group discussions and three home visits were conducted in Shanghai and Chengdu with a view to gaining an in-depth understanding of the preferences of mainland consumers through qualitative analysis.
Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
- Toys & Games
- Mainland China