Inflatable pools lead wave of toy sales as parents, kids reclaim slice of summer

Inflatable pools are driving a deluge of toy sales during the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers try to enhance at-home leisure for their children, their pets and their feet.

Market research firm NPD Canada says inflatable pool sales rose 107 per cent year over year between April and June, when widespread lockdowns were in effect.

The pools, like other items seeing a surge such as puzzles and board games, offer a communal activity for families — dogs included — and a refreshing distraction for kids stuck at home, said NPD analyst Joan Ramsay.

“With the parks being closed, parents were looking for ways to provide some entertainment for their children at home outside,” Ramsay said, noting prolonged school shutdowns increased the need for other activities.

“It’s things that you can do as a group … It wouldn’t surprise me if adults — if not fully sitting in the pool — are at least sticking their feet in to cool off,” she said.

“A fellow I work with said that they bought a bigger inflatable pool so he and his wife can fit in it with their one-year-old.”

Inflatable pools, which typically cost between $100 and $600, were among a flood of larger online purchases that included play sets and trampolines, while sales of smaller toys dropped off slightly in April and May, according to NPD.

“You might not go online to buy one little doll but you might if you’re buying a bigger purchase,” Ramsay said. “You don’t have the impulse purchases with your child pulling at your pant leg when you’re at the store either,” during widespread brick-and-mortar store closures.

Over the past three months, pools — the No. 1 toy item in May — were surpassed only by puzzles, with sales of jigsaws of 1,000 pieces or more growing 150 per cent compared with the same period last year as homebound consumers flocked to the activity.

Total toy sales rose 16 per cent last quarter, NPD said. Video games and consoles — aimed at adults and children — enjoyed a sustained sales boost of 57 per cent, yielding record numbers.

The popularity of toys and entertainment items fits into a broader trend toward comfort and convenience in the home.

“The bread-maker phenomenon is well documented. And if you’re not going to Starbucks every morning, you can splurge for a better coffee maker,” Ramsay said. “Or it’s getting a computer monitor so you’re not squinting at a laptop.”

Recreational goods have also benefited, with Canadian Tire seeing “unprecedented” demand.

“Bicycles, backyard fun products (including inflatable and steel-frame pools and pool accessories) and boredom busters such as trampolines and basketball nets are a few examples,” said spokeswoman Cathy Kurzbock.

At Home Depot, the “Llamacorn” pool float — a pink, inflatable llama with sunglasses and a colourful forehead horn — proved extremely popular. Sturdier above-ground pools and related accessories have also enjoyed a major sales boost, the company said.

Toys ‘R’ Us found itself swamped with calls for inflatable pools as sales climbed 70 per cent year over year alongside more purchases of balloons and backyard “waterslides.”

Books and building toys saw more demand earlier in the pandemic, Toys ‘R’ Us spokeswoman Paige Exell said in an email. Now families are trying to reclaim a few gallons of summer from the pandemic.

“The recent heat wave is driving a big portion of demand, but with kids at home and no camps, and the playgrounds and splash pads closed (in some areas), parents are looking for anything to keep their kids busy — and cool,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2020.

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