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Play-Doh for adults; stores that ship


NEW YORK – The pandemic makes this a holiday shopping season like no other.

Toy companies are targeting adults stuck at home with play-dohs and latte-smelling Legos that turn into Warhols. Those who added a puppy to their family during the pandemic will see tons of gift options for their new furry friend. And with more and more people shopping online, stores are acting as shipping hubs to try to get gifts home as quickly as possible.

Here’s what to expect:

Adult Toys

Children aren’t the only ones who need to have fun. Toy companies are targeting bored adults stuck at home during the pandemic. Need something to stir up at your next Zoom meeting? Hasbro is offering new varieties of moldable Play-Doh that smell like things adults would recognize: lattes, fresh cut grass, and smoked meats.

Lego, meanwhile, wants adults to put on their headphones and “forget the rest of the world” while turning the plastic pieces in their new kits into hanging art, like Andy Warhol’s famous Marilyn Monroe portraits.

Marissa DiBartolo, editor of toy review site The Toy Insider, says she’s seen more coloring books and challenging puzzles designed for adults.

From Youtube to the toy store

Paw Patrol dogs had better watch their tails. YouTube stars with millions of viewers make their way to the Toy Alley, a place where TV cartoon characters reigned supreme.

That’s because kids spend so much time watching YouTube instead of cable TV, says DiBartolo. This made the stars of the video streaming site just as recognizable as those of Nickelodeon.

Figures of Blippi, a man who wears orange suspenders and hosts educational kids videos on YouTube, are sold at Target and Amazon. At Walmart, toys featuring Ryan Kaji, a kid who reviews toys on his Ryan’s World YouTube channel, have been popular sellers. Toy company VTech is playing on the trend in another way, selling a KidiZoom Creator camera that features a green screen so kids can add special effects and pretend to be YouTube influencers themselves.

And if you need another sign of the heights of YouTube stars, a 13-meter-tall balloon based on Ryan’s World’s Kaji will appear in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade this year, floating next to the TV. icons like SpongeBob SquarePants and, yes, Chase from “Paw Patrol”.

Stores as dispatch centers

Retailers including Walmart and Best Buy, which previously used their locations as hubs to ship e-commerce orders, are now coming up with new strategies to be even faster. These measures come as they face a holiday crisis that is expected to tax transport networks and likely lead to delivery delays.

Walmart launched a special vacation program this week. Some of its online orders are fulfilled directly from stores using delivery services like Postmates and DoorDash instead of carriers like FedEx or UPS. The goal is to ensure that customers can receive their orders quickly, even the same day.

Meanwhile, Best Buy says 340 of its stores are specifically designated to handle a higher volume of online orders, although all of its stores ship e-commerce packages. Its objective: to have the 340 stores ship more than 70% of its ship-from-store units during the holiday quarter.

And then, many small and medium-sized businesses are increasingly turning to operators of micro-warehouses – mini-shipping centers located in urban areas – to help pack and deliver goods. Ben Jones is the CEO and founder of Ohi, which operates five micro-warehouses for various brands like Olipop Sparkling Tonic, or provides software to third parties at 115 sites for e-commerce execution across the United States. He says he’s seen more brands using his software as many are unable to guarantee delivery by Christmas via standard shipping if items are ordered after the first week of December.

Gifts for the dog

More people have adopted puppies and kittens during the pandemic, and stores are rushing to cash. Petco sells matching pajamas for dogs and their humans with snowflakes and Christmas trees. And Chewy, the online pet store, is getting more and more personal, writing animal names on bandanas, bowls or beds.

Consulting firm Deloitte expects half of shoppers to spend some of their money on pet treats and other supplies this holiday season.

Forget about impulse buying

It’s not just the frenzied crowds that will be missing this holiday season. The same goes for impulse shopping – the practice of adding extra items like toys or bath balms as shoppers walk in and out of aisles.

Typically, 25% of holiday purchases are impulse-based, according to Marshal Cohen, senior industry advisor at NPD Group, a market research company. This year, Cohen said he expects that figure to drop to around 10% as shoppers dramatically change their online purchases to avoid physical stores. And when they hit the stores, customers will be shopping for a purpose, picking up the things they need while trying to minimize their exposure to COVID-19.

“Impulse shopping is the icing on the cake,” Cohen said. “It’s the difference between a successful, profitable vacation and a ho hum vacation.”

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