This Year’s Toy Catalogs are Fun, Games and Serious Data

The demise of Toy ‘R’ Us left a giant hole in the toy market – and online etailers like Amazon and eBay are turning to print catalogs to help the scoop up market share.

But these are not the toy catalogs of yore, mass-mailed to every home and featuring sale prices and product listings. Instead, these new style toy catalogs are using consumer behavior data and solid storytelling to drive toy buyers to their websites.

For example, look at what Amazon is billing as “the Ultimate Wish List for Kids.” One look at the cover removes any lingering misconceptions of the nature of catalogs these days. Two adorable kids peak out from inside their fake TV, created from a large Amazon box, while their stuffed animals look on. It captures the kind of fun and creativity most parents hope their kids will experience and makes us all believe again for just a minute.

Shoppers can use the Amazon app to scan an image and buy or be redirected to online lists of the Top 100 Toys, best picks by age group, and kid picks for more ideas. Meanwhile their consumer data – the reason Amazon is Amazon – is working hard behind the scenes to get the catalogs into the right hands.

“Amazon has kept fairly quiet about how they’re deciding who will receive a catalog,” writes Kiri Masters in Forbes. So she spoke to Larry Kavangh, CEO of direct mail agency NaviStone about how they might be using online browsing activity to target catalog mailings.

“I would create a model to estimate how much they would expect an Amazon customer to spend on toys based on their purchases in other categories. For example, back to school purchases likely predict toy purchases,” Kavanagh said.

Kavanagh explained that Amazon could be considering other geographical drivers like how far away shoppers live from existing toy stores. “I’d then target consumers who live close to now-closed Toys-R-Us stores and whose purchases in other categories indicate that they are highly likely to buy toys,” he said.

Meanwhile, eBay has launched its first ever toy catalog and is relying heavily on storytelling to paint a nostalgic picture.

“eBay’s Toy Book catalog is distinctive because it lists retro and collectible toys from the commerce site alongside new items, so yes, you can have that 1981 Strawberry Shortcake Designer Doll House that you coveted at your cousin’s house as a kid ($95) or even an original 1960s redheaded Barbie ($250),” writes Anne Stych in BizJournals.

“The Toy Book will be mailed to millions of homes, with condensed versions inserted in People magazine, Retail Dive reports,” Stych continues. “eBay predicts some of the top toys of 2018 will be FurReal Ricky, WowWee Fingerlings Hugs Bella, Monopoly: Fortnite Edition, and Pomsies Speckles.”

With 177 million active buyers worldwide, the company doubtless has reams of user behavior data to help monitor the zeitgeist among toy buyers. Using a clearly nostalgic approach – one page features the first generation transformers set with the tagline “Once upon a time, you saved the world. Do it again” – they are bringing shoppers straight back to their own childhoods and reinforcing that throw-back appeal.

These big name etailers clearly understand the role of print in the funnel and know that just because we buy online doesn’t mean that’s where we spend all our time. Print catalogs make a lot of sense in the age of Amazon, especially when user data influences not just the product list, but the storytelling and the distribution too.