Kids play and and parents pay as UAE toys and games market reaches $1B
As many UAE residents shop for Chistmas, they realize just how expensive toys can be. (Shutterstock)
As with all sectors related to baby and child products - clothes, diapers, prams, food - toys in the UAE mean big money.
For parents it means big money spent, but as an industry, too, it's thriving.
The toys and games market of the country is now a $1billion (Dh3.67 billion) industry, according to a recent Euromonitor report.
Shopping for Christmas presents at a toy shop in a mall, Swedish expat Vanja Ahlmark, mother of three girls, aged 6, 4 and 14 months, said that shopping for toys here is very expensive. "I'm trying to slow down," she said.
The lament of parents is also a peculiar First World problem; that for birthday parties, which can be three in a month, you don't get toys that kids would be happy with for less than Dh100
According to the report called 'Toys and Games in the UAE', approximately $355 million (Dh1.3 billion) of the $686 million in retail value in 2014 accounted for traditional toys and games, with video game hardware and software accounting for $331 million.
The report said the UAE's retail value for toys and games is projected to grow 11 per cent in 2015 and reach $762 million. The UAE, of course, has that famously high disposable income. The figures seem credible as you walk past endless aisles of toy shops in various malls across the country.
Boxes of 'deluxe play sets' are marked Dh195, Dh295, and Dh395. One such box for Dh195 is a play set from the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out that has a bunch of toy figures wearing different expressions - joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust.
Vanja said: "I don't mind picking this up. The girls can learn about emotions." With $80 per capita spent on toys and games - more than Japan, Spain and Italy - the UAE is developing into a prime market for international toy manufacturers who want to expand their presence in the Gulf markets.
Everything in the UAE, as all parents know, is so much more expensive."Lego here is so expensive!" said Vanja. "It's double the price here than in Sweden."
She said all her expat friends mostly "shop and ship" - that is, buy online, as it can be cheaper.
Toys here are such a big market that a chain of former bookstores are now bookstores and toy shops.
And by 2019 the retail value, which includes traditional children's toys and games along with video games, will be worth $1.06 billion. The number of babies born here has everything to do with these figures - also the young working population.
The report also shows that the influx of retail space has added to the country's network of malls and community centres. Demand for toys and games is going only up.
Plush toy manufacturer Wild Planet will soon make a foray into the country. Pedro Kleinsteuber, export manager at Wild Planet, said the company is planning to launch 70 new items across four collections in the Middle East market, as it looks to triple its sales revenue over the next two years.
"In 2014, our business volume in the Middle East was worth $250,000, and we're looking to increase this to $750,000 by 2016," said Kleinsteuber.
"Plush toys are very popular in the region, particularly in the UAE, where tourists can buy soft toys that are easy to carry back home.
Hypermarkets and other brick and mortar-based specialist toy stores at malls, across the country, are the major distribution channels for toys and games, while retailers are increasingly investing in Internet retail to cater to the on-going trend of consumers researching and comparing options online.
So what are some of the popular toys? Movie merchandise does well. When Frozen was released, the movie figures were flying off the shelves, shop assistants tell Khaleej Times.
In the classics, Hot Wheels - remember the tiny cars? Still do well. Dora no longer does well. Bratz dolls are almost completely out of fashion. Barbie dolls still sell. As a company Fisher Price - toys for toddlers - is still popular. Do-It-Yourself kits, painting and assembling crafts are popular, too.
One of the hot selling items thanks to YouTube, is merchandise of Masha and the Bear, a Russian product that kids here have apparently got hooked onto.
By Nivriti Butalia
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