Hamleys, the toy store in Regent Street, London, has recently followed Fisher-Price's example and set up a panel of child testers. From the thousands of children (or was it adults?) who applied for the job, Hamleys based its final choice on a child's answer to the question "Why should we choose you as a toy tester?" Winning answers included: "I can tell you what everyone wants to play with in the playground so you know what to have in your shop" and "I'm the youngest of four and only ever get hand-me-downs". The effect on children of being chosen as "toy consultants" has been very positive. Hamleys has given the role a formal structure so that children get a chance to talk about what they know, and the store listens to what they have to say. "Teachers have told us that children who have stood up in assembly to tell their classmates about their new 'job' have had more confidence than usual," says Hamleys spokeswoman Eva Saltman.
The panel made its first visit to the store last month. Children tested a new "cyber pet" - a toy dog that learns tricks, including a card trick, from its owner - and spent time looking around the store.
"The children liked the cyber do, and liked it even more when they were given a free one to take home," says Eva Saltman. Given the choice, the children all made for the Pokemon corner. "We showed them Digimon, which is being marketed as the successor to Pokemon, but the children dismissed it as a copy of the original." (Can you see the "Phantom Menace" effect at work again?) Other popular areas were the radio-controlled cars and scooters. "At around pound;90, children would have to save up for the scooter, but it was all that one of our testers wanted to buy. Although it looks modern, it is actually a very traditional toy," says Eva Saltman.
As anyone who has visited toy shops with children in tow already knows, it was products on display that attracted children's attention. "The children were not interested in opening boxes or finding things on shelves. They did not look further than products that were out on display and that they could pick up."
Were there any obvious influences guiding children's likes and dislikes as they travelled around the store? Apparently not. "Children aren't like that; if they play with something it's because they like it. There's no more to it than that."