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The holiday toy shopping season is eagerly anticipated by children and adults alike. Children love to look at, and play with, toys in-store and then write their wish lists. Parents, in turn, carefully watch their kids at play to learn what toys will be most appreciated. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic radically changed this traditional shopping journey. Social distancing restrictions and concerns to stop the spread severely curtailed people's ability and willingness to shop in-store and drove many to buying online, where it is challenging to get a thorough sense of a toy before purchase. Additionally, the rising awareness of multicultural identity was rapidly changing the types of toys children and parents wanted to interact with.

Our client, a well-known toy manufacturer, needed to better understand how the multiple changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic would influence the holiday toy buying experience. With this understanding, they sought strategies to adapt to the 'new normal' of shopping.

C+R created a longitudinal, multi-phase, qualitative research program to help our client understand these changes. As a result of the research, our client gained a myriad of insights about shopper delighters and pain points with the holiday toy shopping journey, as well as strategic recommendations to help make future toy buying seasons easier and more enjoyable.


A leading toy manufacturer sought to understand how COVID-19 was impacting the holiday toy shopping experience. Several major changes were occurring simultaneously, each with the ability to radically change both how kids learn about and ask for toys and how adults shop for them. Specifically,

  • Brick and mortar retailers, though open, carried social distancing and mask restrictions, and many consumers were uncomfortable shopping in person.
  • The rise in popularity of shopping online carried the potential to impact the experiential elements inherent in toy shopping, as well as create consumer uncertainty due to inconsistent shipping.
  • An elevated awareness of multiculturalism and cultural identity had the ability to alter the kinds of toys kids most wanted.

Our client asked C+R for help in understanding the confluence and impact of these changes in order to better plan for the 'new normal’ and future of holiday toy shopping. We created a research program to help the client discover:

  • Shopper behaviors and truths, including desires as well as drivers and barriers to shop for toys;
  • The new shopper journey from pre- to post-shopping as impacted by COVID-19, including what changes are permanent and what might revert back post-pandemic;
  • The impact of cultural identity on parent-kid influences; and
  • The future state of toy shopping.

The research uncovered a multitude of insights about holiday toy shopping during a pandemic. We learned more about consumer delighters and struggles shopping online (such as the role of the Black Friday extension and when shoppers will buy online vs. in store). In addition, our client received strategic recommendations for how to make the holiday toy buying experience easier and more enjoyable for kids, parents, and other toy buyers in the post-COVID "new normal."


A three-phase, longitudinal, qualitative research program was created to capture in-the-moment toy shopping experiences, as well as to allow for deep dives into specific topics.

Phase 1 consisted of an immersive online community with 62 holiday shoppers. All shoppers were planning to buy two or more toys for children between the ages of 0 and 8 years old for at least one holiday (e.g.,  Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and/or Three Kings’ Day). All shoppers were at least 21 years of age, and parents were all under 50. We recruited a mix of ethnicities, marital status, education level, and household income ($30k+). Consumers planned to shop at a mix of retailers both online and in-store. 

Via the online community, which lasted for two months, these participants completed asynchronous activities such as spontaneous holiday shopping journaling, online discussions, shopping missions, and weekly check-ins. 

Phase 2 included webcam interviews with a subset of 12 parents from the online community, as well as their children. The interviews were divided equally among parents with a child between the ages of 3-5 years old, 6-8 years old, and 9-11 years old. There was an equal mix of boys and girls, as well as ethnicities. The webcam interviews lasted 45 minutes each and focused on kid wishes and influences for toys during the holiday season.

The final phase of the research consisted of webcam interviews with a subset of parents and gift-givers from the online community – this time without a child present. Twelve shoppers spoke with a moderator for an hour each; the respondents represented a range of cultural identities. Six respondents were purchasing a toy for a girl, and six were purchasing for a boy. These interviews dove deeply into the multicultural impact of toy shopping during the holiday season.

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