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Brief Published: 28 Sep 2018

Is a Subscription the Answer to Sustainable Toy Retail?


Many millennials expect sustainable practices from brands – arguably even more so when purchasing goods for their kids. Targeting an eco-conscious generation of parents, a soon-to-be launched on-demand toy library leverages the power of sharing through an easy-to-use website.

Set to beta launch in November 2018, UK subscription-based toy library Whirli aims to make children’s playtime more sustainable. Based on a sharing model, Whirli wants to lessen the waste generated by a sector well known for its heavy use of plastic.

In the US, around $3.1bn is spent every year on toys specifically for infants and pre-schoolers. In the UK, the toy market is worth around £3.5bn ($4.6bn) annually.

As Lego looks to phase out plastic (see blog), could the toy sector be about to become sustainable? Whirli works like this: for a fixed monthly price, parents can curate a toybox from an online collection, with the box then delivered to their home. The current beta launch experiments with three different subscription tiers that will be altered according to customer feedback. A full launch is planned for February 2019.

Kids can keep the toys as long as they like, but when they get bored, parents can return the items to Whirli to exchange for another product in the catalogue. Returned toys will then be sanitised and made available for other children.

Usage that extends beyond nine months results in children getting to keep the toy for free. Although covering most toy brands, Whirli doesn’t offer toys from brands such as Lego because of the problem of missing pieces and the logistical implausibility of refunding entire sets. After an initial three-month introductory period, users can cancel or change their membership tiers anytime.

See also Kids-Centric Commerce and Retail’s Nurturing New Parents, as well as Pause & Pulsate for more on the impact of the sharing economy on industries ranging from automotive to fashion.