Legos are proving to be the perfect pandemic toy

Unlike its major toy industry rivals, it turns out Lego was well prepared to address the needs of the quarantined household. The educational value of its products, which the company has been touting for a while, has become a major selling point for parents anxious about their kids’ education.

And Lego had been coming up with ways to make its bricks compatible with screens well before the pandemic made kids even more dependent on them. Its Super Mario sets, for example, can be played in conjunction with an app.

Then there’s the widespread appeal of the Danish toy maker’s sets, many of which are labeled for ages “4-99”.

“There are very few toys where you can be 12 years old and play with them and be cool,” says Gerrick Johnson, a toy and leisure analyst at BMO Capital Markets (and father to a four-year-old.)

Like its competitors, Lego has had to deal with shuttered factories and stores. But it was able to get around some of those disruptions through its online store. In the first half of 2020 versus the first half of 2019, the number of visitors to its site doubled to 100 million.

First-half profit at Lego jumped 11% compared with the same period last year, as revenue climbed 14% to DKK 15.7 billion ($2.4 billion), while Hasbro, Mattel, and action-figure and doll maker Jakks Pacific saw their sales slide. Hasbro and Mattel both suffered because film studios pushed back the release of kid-oriented movies, which typically boost licensed toy sales.

Lego has licensed characters like Harry Potter, but it’s not as dependent on movie releases to gin up interest in its products. The company said its best sellers were its line of advanced technical models (Technic), along with its Speed Champions sports cars, its Classic sets, which contain bricks in basic shapes and colors, as well as sets based on Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Disney princesses.

Josh Ong, a PR consultant, bought new sets for his kids to help occupy them during his work day. “How many hours can I get out this?” he thought while considering the cost of the $100 Space Shuttle set. “It’s cheaper than childcare.”

In addition to the sets he bought for his kids, Ong treated himself to a $230 brick-based reproduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System, the iconic 1980s video game console, featuring Super Mario Bros on a period-specific television.

The additional purchases during the pandemic can quickly rack up. One father of two in Portland tells Quartz he has spent close to $5,000. Shireen Ahmed, a mother of four Lego fans, ages 20, 18, 16, and 14, says she and her children are keeping a list of the sets they hope to get next. ”Our family goal is to buy the Death Star,” says Ahmed, a freelance sports writer in Toronto.

Despite the slump at Mattel and Hasbro, overall toy sales rose 9% in the first half of the year, with the US recording a 16% jump, according to The NPD Group, a market research company. The biggest areas of growth were activities families could do together, such as games and puzzles, outdoor sports, building sets, and arts and crafts, while sales of action figures and dolls flagged.

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