China’s Toys and Games Market (2): Consumer Preferences
30 May 2019
The toys that children prefer vary depending on the stage of their development. According to a mainland toy consumption survey conducted by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), boys tend to prefer electronic/electric toys while dolls are the favourite toy among girls. Although electronic games have enjoyed a great deal of popularity in recent years, mainland parents are increasingly concerned about their impact on children. STEM toys and new-tech toys are becoming increasingly popular with parents because of their novelty and capacity to enhance children’s knowledge. 98% of the parents surveyed had bought or were interested in buying STEM toys, and 90% agreed that new-tech toys are more interesting than other toy products. Although the popularity of electronic games is declining, demand for their spin-offs is growing.
Traditional Toys Remain Most Popular
Traditional toys are the ones which children on the mainland come into contact with most. In the survey, 59% of parents said their children had played with toy blocks in the past year, the highest figure for any category of toy. This was followed by dolls (53%) and jigsaw puzzles (45%). Because toy blocks are suitable for both boys and girls and can be played with in many different ways, a large number of parents regard them as a “must-have” toy. The survey also found that children in the 3-6 age group come into contact with the most types of toys - an average of 7.39. As children grow older, the number of types of toys they come into contact with declines. This is probably due to them developing clearer preferences about what types of toys they like, and also because they are spending more time on school studies.
Boys Prefer Electronic/Electric Toys Most
Boys of all ages display a marked preference for electronic/electric toys. The survey found that electronic/electric toys came top across all age groups, from 0-1.5 years to 9-14, when parents were asked to pick the sort of toys their sons liked the most. Children aged below 3 also tend to like musical instrument toys, dolls and jigsaw puzzles, while children aged above 3 prefer model toys, toy blocks, science experiment toy kits and so on.
As they grow older, boys show a stronger preference for toys which allow for hands-on exploration. From the age of 6, boys begin favouring science experiment toy kits and various electronic games. New-tech toys have a greater appeal to older boys, with 19% of parents with sons in the 9-14 age group saying that their children liked them the most, a figure only bettered by that for electronic/electric toys (20%). At a consumer focus group discussion, a parent said: “I think that while younger children are more emotionally attached to their toys, older children are more attracted to tech-based toys which allow for hands-on exploration.”
Dolls are Girls’ Most Favoured Toys
Dolls are the most popular toy for girls, but this popularity decreases as girls grow older and start coming into contact with new-tech toys. The age group with the highest proportion of girls who like dolls is 1.5-6 years. The survey indicated that girls across all age groups like make-believe toys, traditional inspirational toys and DIY toys. 16% of parents with daughters in the 9-14 age group said their children like new-tech toys best, second only to dolls (18%). Featuring various functions as artificial intelligence (AI), new-tech toys are novelties that make good company for children.
Craze for Electronic Games Waning
As smartphone technology has matured, the popularity of mobile games has soared, but now it seems the craze for them is waning. Just 17% of parents in the survey said that their children had played electronic games in the past year, a marked drop from the 49% in a similar survey in 2014. The earliest age that children are coming into contact with electronic games has also increased slightly, from 4.29 in 2014 to 5.00 in the current survey. To prevent adolescents from becoming addicted to electronic games, the mainland government has repeatedly advised parents in recent years to ensure their children use electronic products properly and limit the time they spend on electronic games. The popularity of mobile games has declined as a result. At a consumer focus group discussion, one parent said: “Teachers have recently advised parents in chat groups not to allow their children to be exposed to mobile games too much.” Most children (75%) who had played electronic games had done so via mobile, 64% had played tablet games, while only 30% had used a computer or a console to play games.
The popularity of electronic games is linked to children’s age and gender. As children grow older, they come into contact with electronic games more. The group of parents showing the highest proportion saying their children like electronic games was those with sons aged between 9 and 14. 18% of parents in that group indicated that this was the case, significantly higher than the 10% of parents with girls in the same age group who did so. The popularity of electronic games is also related to household income. Compared to families in other income groups, a larger proportion of families with a monthly income of over RMB20,000 have children who like electronic games and have played them in the past year. This is probably because the higher the household income, the more likely it is that parents will buy electronic products such as mobile phones, tablet computers, and home game consoles for their children.
Spin-offs of Electronic Games Welcomed by Consumers
While electronic games have become slightly less popular on the mainland, spin-offs of electronic games are gaining in popularity. The survey found that among the parents whose children had played electronic games in the past year, 72% said they had bought spin-offs of electronic games. The highest proportion of parents who have bought spin-offs of electronic games are those with children in the 6-9 age group, followed by those with children aged between 9 and 14. At a consumer focus group discussion, a parent with a 9-year-old daughter remarked: “Recently, my child has asked me to buy not only animation toys, but also a joystick. Her demand has expanded.” Spin-offs of electronic products range from physical toy products to clothing and other daily necessities. There is good potential in this market.
Huge Potential for STEM Toys
The mainland has vigorously promoted STEM education in recent years, sparking the launch of a number of STEM toys. The survey discovered that 20% of parents surveyed understood the specific meaning of STEM, while 54% had heard of the concept, although they did not understand its specific meaning. It is clear that the concept of STEM is gaining currency among mainland parents in recent years.
Once the meaning of STEM had been explained to parents during the online questionnaire survey, 14% said they had purchased STEM toys before, and knew that they were STEM toys when they bought them. 30% said that while they had bought STEM toys before, they hadn’t known at the time that they were STEM toys. In other words, a total of 44% of parents had bought STEM toys before. The vast majority of parents in the survey who have never bought any STEM toys expressed an interest in buying STEM toys once they understood the meaning of STEM. It seems, then, STEM toys are widely accepted by parents. In a consumer focus group discussion, one parent commented: “STEM toys nowadays require the child to assemble the parts or even do the programming themselves. I think such toys can enhance the child’s ability and I will buy them for my kid.” Another said: “A physics toy kit that I bought comes with different sets of components, allowing my child to explore while following the instructions. He finds it very novel and interesting.”
The popularity level and purchase of STEM toys is related both to children’s age and family household income, as is the understanding of the STEM concept. According to the survey, the older their children are, the more likely it is that the parents know about and understand the STEM concept and have purchased STEM toys. This may be because children start acquiring scientific knowledge after they have entered school. The proportion of households with a monthly income of over RMB20,000 which have purchased STEM toys is higher than that of other income groups. This is probably because STEM toys are generally more expensive than other toys. However, when parents with younger children and lower monthly income understand the meaning of STEM toys, over 50% express an interest in buying STEM toys. This implies that there are enormous opportunities in this market.
New-Tech Toys Gaining Popularity
With the cost of some new technologies going down in recent years, manufacturers are beginning to incorporate them into toys. Examples of this include AI robots and drones. Some tech companies are also venturing into the toys market. These new-tech toys are changing mainland parents’ views towards toys in general. According to the survey, 78% of parents know about AI smart toys and Virtual Reality (VR) toys, while 68% know about Augmented Reality (AR) toys and 73% know about drones. Only 3% of the parents surveyed said they knew nothing about new-tech toys.
35% of the parents in the survey said that they had never purchased any new-tech toys. Among parents who had bought new-tech toys, the most popular were AI smart toys and VR toys, both of which had been bought by 31%. The popularity of AI smart toys may be because they are said to be good company for children and can enhance their learning. One parent said: “AI smart toys can teach children how to sing songs or recite poetry. Family members are not as good as an audio recording when it comes to this.” Another parent commented: “AI smart toys can communicate with the child. So even when the parents are not around, the children can play with the toys.” The higher the household income, the more likely the parents are to have purchased new-tech toys. A higher proportion of families with a monthly household income of RMB20,000+ have bought new-tech toys, compared to the proportions who have made such purchases among other income groups.
Mainland parents are happy to spend on new-tech toys. 92% of the parents surveyed said that tech-based toys integrate learning and recreation and can enhance children’s knowledge. 90% also agreed that new-tech toys are more interesting and suited to a wider age group, and have a more enduring appeal. Some parents said that, as they can choose what content is played with on the smart toys based on their child’s age, they do not mind buying such toys when their child is still young. 91% said that they would definitely buy toys which can enhance their children’s understanding of science/technology or help their school studies. 76% believe that smart/new-tech toys made by tech companies are of better quality than those produced by traditional toy makers. In a focus group discussion, a number of parents said that they thought their children needed to be familiar with new technologies as smart toys are a global trend. Based on these survey results, it can be seen that mainland parents generally accept new-tech toys, and believe that they offer more educational value than traditional toys do, as well as providing recreation.
Mainland parents place great emphasis on building children’s abilities and intelligence. As STEM toys encourage children to learn scientific knowledge through problem-solving, carry new and interesting features, allow children to explore hands-on and can enhance their school studies, they are much sought after by parents. Furthermore, parents see new-tech toys as a global trend and are keen to keep their children in touch with the latest technology.
Despite these trends, traditional toys remain the most preferred toys overall. While the craze for electronic games is waning as mainland parents exercise tighter controls over their children playing such games, spin-offs of electronic games are still in demand. Toy traders looking to penetrate the mainland market need to understand which sorts of toys are preferred by boys and girls in different age groups. They can then incorporate STEM elements or new-tech functions into their products to enhance their appeal to parents.
 Please refer to the “Appendix” for background information on this survey.
 STEM is an educational approach that integrates the different subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
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