The rise and fall of the Fidget Spinner

2 weeks ago by Jeremy Bloom in Trends

Most toy fads go through cycles of boom and bust, but the Fidget Spinner is in a class by itself. The annoying, inexplicable little gadgets were everywhere last spring, and then just as quickly as they came, they blessedly buzzed off.

Starting last winter, the Fidget360 had a spectacular rise, sparked by Allan Maman and Cooper Weiss, a couple of 17 year-olds using a 3D printer and promotion via Instagram and other social media. For a few months, it seemed that Maman & Weiss's colorful plastic toys were everywhere. And they were - because shortly after the Fidget360's ascension into trendiness, hundreds - nay, thousands - off knock-offs appeared in every toy aisle, every impulse-purchase rack, and every digital corner ot Amazon Marketplace and eBay.

According to Slice Intelligence, sales peaked on May 5, 2017 - at which point they accounted for a full-17 percent of all online toy sales. Slice also reported that 34% of sales were made to middle-aged women - likely moms buying them to keep their fidgety kids from driving them nuts. This may also explain why the Fidget-Spinner craze cooled off as quickly as it came: Nothing says "cool" quite like "My mom bought this for me".

Even as Maman & Cooper upgraded their manufacturing and got the Fidget360 placed in Walmart, dozens of companies flooded toy stores and websites with knock-offs. Since there was no patent, anybody could make them, and lots of folks did.

The kids moved on, but the concept may have become a fiddlly new sales niche. Even though Fidget Spinners themselves had pretty much dropped off the Amazon sales charts by September, new companies continually released versions that would spin to the hights of Amazon's sales-rank heavens, if at least for a few days. Most of these products weren't even spinners - just toys described with the keyword "fidget" in order to cash in on search queries.

And it worked.

Case in point: "Mochi Squishy Easter Eggs", which describe themselves as "Fidget stress relief squishies", were hot on the charts during the recent Easter Holiday. 

(Note: This chart shows Amazon rank, so the lower a dot is on the chart, the better the ranking - #1 is most popular, #100 is about to fall off the chart)

In other words, expect "fidget" toys to continue to appear - and sell - for some time, especially in the outer reaches of Amazon Marketplace as shown above. As the Economist notes, this has been a bit of a paradigm shift:

Big toy retailers, the usual arbiters of what sells, were initially caught flat-footed. Fidget spinners were a plaything that children themselves discovered and shared on social media, particularly on YouTube and Instagram. No person or firm had a patent on spinners, so with no licensing fees to pay, anyone could make them. They are produced in huge quantities in China, often by firms that previously manufactured smartphone accessories. Others were made using 3D printing. That has been a boon for small shops, which have been able to stock these unbranded goods from wherever they can find them.

People are wondering what will happen to the toy industry, now that the main outlet for independent toymaking, Toys R Us, is going the way of the Brontosau R Us. Maybe the kids have shown us the way.

Jeremy Bloom

When Jeremy Bloom isn't writing about energy, the environment, or the amazing strangeness of modern life, you can find him drinking really good single malt whisky...

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