Global News Blog: Barbie is Looking for Love in Shanghai

April 30, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Posted by Ashlee Rivalto

Mattel recently opened the world’s first Barbie super store in Shanghai according to BBC. The store has six floors and includes a Barbie throne and photo booth, Barbie dress-up runway, manicurist, café, ice cream bar and over 875 Barbie dolls.

After devastating holiday sales and rough economic times the toy manufacturer started a worldwide campaign to increase sales. After researching cities all over the world, Shanghai was chosen as the new home for the Barbie Mega Store.

Mattel has recently cut 1,000 jobs and raised prices on spring toys in order to boost sales in 2010 according to a News Daily article. Overall toy sales in the United States fell 3 percent in 2008. Some say the recession is causing parents to spend less on toys but what about the child’s say in all this? Generation Z—children born between 1995 & 2010—is said to be a generation of consumers who have a strong hold on their parents’ wallets. Is this decline due to parents or to a child’s lack of interest in Barbie and other non-technological toys of the olden days?

The opening of the store in Shanghai marks the beginning of Barbie’s 50th birthday bash and some may say she has hit a mid-life crisis. Is Barbie becoming old news? According to a recent study in Australia conducted by child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg, little girls between the ages of six and seven are already dumping their Barbies for “more sophisticated gadgets.” Carr-Gregg says there is an “up-aging” syndrome in Generation Z that is fueled by competitive parents pushing their child to be more mature, dress fashionable, and “discard play that did not appear to have an educational benefit.”

“Educational benefit” means new techno toys. The “edutainment” toy industry is one of the fastest growing segments in the overall toy industry caused by Generation Zs comfort with the digital world. Is this showing that children are moving away from the toys of the past and into the future of technology and increased brain power? Scary thought.

If you ask me, I am rooting for Barbie. But will this Barbie wonder world work wonders on Mattel’s financials? Only time can tell. As the number of Barbie fans continues to shrink, her best bet is making new friends. Mattel believes Shanghai is a good place to start since wealth is growing and Chinese consumers are looking to spend money on new experiences and products.

The company hopes to instill a love for Barbie in Chinese girls at a young age and create faithful Barbie consumers who will one day be richer than their parents once were. Mattel sees the Barbie store is an “investment in the future.”

But is this a smart investment? Should Barbie be looking for friends in China or should she make new friends with technology in order to win the hearts of young girls around the world?