Ch-ch-ch-changes…

If you’ve been reading many of the doll blogs or paying attention to the news, it seems there is a LOT going on at American Girl lately.  First there was a change in leadership.  Lots and lots of sales going on.  Layoffs.  Recent news that AG and their parent company Mattel had a significant drop in sales.  And now they have announced that they are going to close the outlet store in Wilmot, WI.  Sounds a little bit scary at the moment.  But let’s take a closer look.

As for the reduction in annual sales, I think that AG in particular has reached a crossroad.  There are several things to consider:  price point, competition and market saturation.  Unfortunately right now, AG is dealing with all 3 of these.  They continue to raise prices without improving quality.  If anything, quality has been reduced.  Competition from Our Generation, My Life As, Madame Alexander and other companies is at an all time high, and it’s fierce.  Throw in all of these fantastic Etsy folks, and I don’t doubt they are seeing a bit of a pinch.  Add market saturation: let’s face it, at some point, most people say “enough” and stop buying, or at least slow down.  I personally know that I’m not buying as much because I’m not only running out of space, but low on ideas/interest for some of the new items they have come out with.  Brand loyalty can only go so far sometimes.  Just about everything experiences a high point and then tapers off.

Another factor to consider is the way play has changed, particularly for girls.  When I was growing up, I was considered unusual because not only did I love my Barbie stuff, but I also loved Hot Wheels/Matchbox cars, Johnny West and other things that were considered “boy” interests.  Nowadays, it’s become much more acceptable for girls and boys to play on the same level as well with the same toys.  Factor video games into the equation and you can no longer ignore that the demographic has changed tremendously over the 30 years that American Girl has existed.

Should we be concerned?  Maybe.  I say maybe for several reasons.  Barbie has had her shaky moments, but she has managed to survive.  When you have a company the size of Mattel, there is almost always another toy line that keeps the cash rolling in until the storm has passed.  Plus, you have to consider that while sales may be down, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the company isn’t turning a profit and that particular lines are no longer profitable.  They may be less profitable than before, but still making money.  There are also rumors of Mattel being purchased by Hasbro.  That could be good or bad, hard to say.

I have noticed several things over the past few months that are starting to make sense.  First, the lack of American Girl offers on Zulily.  This could be for several reasons, one being that Zulily is no longer a privately owned company, they are now part of the same brand that owns QVC.  At one point in time QVC carried American Girl, but that stopped suddenly with no explanation, so perhaps there was an issue.  It could be something as simple as the end of a contract. There also hasn’t been a Jill’s Steals and Deals/Today Show offer in quite a while.  That one really puzzled me until the recent announcement in regards to the outlet store closing and how they felt that they had a “robust e-commerce site”.  I often wondered how they could make enough money to justify having a storefront vs. internet sales.  Apparently someone there has come to the realization as well.  JS&D’s sales were nothing but frustration for buyers. Which brings me to the hopeful conclusion that perhaps we are going to see more discounted items available on their website instead.  Fingers crossed!  I’m sure the Ebay sellers who relied on the outlet for inventory are freaking out, but I for one think that if it does happen, it will be a good thing for the buyer.  We will no longer be subjected to the overpricing politics that seem to go on in the secondary market.

Another thing I have noticed is a very large reduction in the amount of items being offered on Ebay.  A year ago at this time, if you did a general search on “American Girl”, you would pull up somewhere between 80,000 and 90,000 items.  Now it’s somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000.  That’s a huge drop!  I think Ebay re-sellers priced themselves out of the market as well, and as a result, fewer of them are mass-buying at the outlet store.  The reason I have come to this conclusion is I check Ebay every day, and I can’t tell you how many times I see the same items re-listed over and over and over again.  Over-pricing is a huge factor in this, and I think what has happened is consumers have balked at these prices.  That in turn reduces the number of items the Ebay sellers buy.  Just like any company, they don’t want their money tied up in inventory that isn’t going to move.  Another reason for the drop in Ebay sales may be because of the high rate of fraud that has been going on as well.  People no longer feel comfortable in spending their money and either not getting what they were expecting, or worse yet, not getting it at all!

It used to be that companies could sit on their brand recognition and not do anything about it.  That ideology all went out the window with the invention of the internet.  People are way more savvy about things, online reviews and the ability for us all to exchange information quickly has changed the way we buy tremendously.  Make a wrong step and everyone knows about it!  Not good for companies sometimes (just ask Chipotle!) but good for consumers.  I think it’s time AG takes a look at how the company started and which changes have been good and which ones haven’t.

Here’s what I hope to see happen in the coming months/years:

Price stabilization.  No more price hikes and more reasonable pricing on some items.

Better quality: American Girl used to be known for making some of the most detailed accessories.  Now it is all plastic.  Plastic is cheap.  I feel like I’m being ripped off when I get something that I’ve paid a lot for, only to discover it’s plastic.  😦

Clearance items available TO ALL!  If they truly believe that the website is robust, then show us.  Make it possible for everyone to buy these items at the sale prices, not just those who lived in Wisconsin.  I really believe that this could be a massive turning point for sales if offered to everyone, not just a small part of the population.  This would have another upside to it to:  faster turnover of clearance inventory!  Instead of waiting for a small percentage of people to come through their outlet store, they would now have a global audience.  To me it’s a win/win.

No more Jill’s Steals and Deals offers.  These were nothing but frustration for many and I wonder how many customers were lost because of it.  I honestly think that the package deals we’ve been seeing since just before Christmas is taking the place of this as that is about the same time these stopped.  Yeah, once in a while the package isn’t what you want, but JS&D’s had the same issue.  It’s always going to be hit and miss, but at least now when it’s a hit, you stand a chance of possibly getting in, and not being stuck in the internet “waiting room” for all eternity!  I especially liked the fact that the package deals they offered on the website were available for several days instead of a 24 hour period, reducing the “black Friday” mentality that seemed to go with the JS&D’s offers.

All in all, I think these recent changes are a step in the right direction, it will be interesting to see how it all turns out.  The outlet store is set to close at the end of July, the annual sale there is coming up this weekend.  I suspect it will be all out mayhem as Ebay re-sellers try to stock up one last time.  I’ll be curious to hear though if there is much new to buy, it wouldn’t surprise me if they are holding stuff back to put on the website.

Any ideas on recent news and changes at AG?  Please feel free to comment!

 

 

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22 thoughts on “Ch-ch-ch-changes…

  1. It makes good sense to unload clearance stuff asap instead of trickling it out. Break up the huge sets … Let us just buy groups of things instead of 300.00 huts and pastry shops!
    One factor working against AG, IMO, is that the stories aren’t fantasy. By this I mean Harry Potter, dragons etc. I work with lots of kids in AGs target age and because they LOVE fantasy they HATE historical anything and reality too. For real! Emily… If you read this, chime in!

    • Jen, do you think AG would/could ever come out with a fantasy theme for a doll? I’m not sure about and actual AG doll (although that would be cool) but perhaps along the lines of another brand like the Wellie Wishers. Right now Carpatina is the main brand to go to for 18″ fantasy dolls but they’re slim dolls and don’t fit into AG clothes and vice versa.

      • It makes sense, though that isn’t my “thing.” We traveled to the past, spent time in the present including multiple countries… Had every stuffed mammal and a few replies.

      • Sorry, my comment sent by mistake. The current culture with kids is BIG THICK fantasy books. Even little ones want Harry Potter. When I do a realistic fiction book with my GT readers, they say “Oh no, is this about a real person??” The other trend is graphic novels. If I were is marketing I would look in these categories for sales. Personally, I’d rather grow braids and be a pioneer, but I’m in the minority 😉

      • I think fantasy is an area they should think about, but not necessarily an entire line. Perhaps a doll per year, along the lines of the GOTY with their stories intertwined? I am rather surprised that they haven’t done anything at all like this, even some sort of accessories for the Truly Me line. Licensing issues prevent them from being linked to a specific story (without spending massive amounts of cash), but with all of their authors, I’m sure someone could come up with something. I’m with Jen though, I’d rather stick with historical stories. I personally don’t like the fact that all kids want to read are fantasy books, I think they need some variety.

      • I enjoy both and yes, I’ve always wondered why AG makes so few long ball-gown type dresses that could be in the fantasy genre or even historical. I think the only long gown dresses I’ve seen recently are the store exclusive Christmas dresses that cost a fortune.

    • As a huge Harry Potter fan and huge AG fan, I have to say that in my mind they don’t really mix all that much. I would, however, like to maybe make some Hogwarts robes for my modern dolls to wear as costumes, so kind of like you guys are saying, I really can see that having some outfits/accessories geared toward that purpose might be a great option! I am not totally sure about a doll or line of dolls, that would really be going in a completely different direction, but I guess anything is possible. I do see a lot of kids at school reading fantasy books and I would say in general kids do prefer that genre over historical fiction, but I think all the more reason for AG to keep on with the historical series! I adore both genres, but ultimately learning about something that is “real” is so important for kids, I think. When I was at target age I read both equally and loved both. I think that is the great thing about reading in general–there is so much out there to love! I teach 5th and 6th graders and I would actually say that at that age at least where I work, there is a fairly wide spread in the types of books I see them reading (I teach band, by they way, not reading or language arts so this is just based on casual observation and conversation with kids). I saw one student reading “The Book Thief” (a bestseller in the adult historical fiction category) and the next period I saw a student the same age reading Harry Potter. I have never seen a student read an AG book, unfortunately, but by that age they have probably outgrown them. That is one good thing about the Beforever books, they are thicker and I think more appealing to kids who are a little bit older.

      Flo, I think you are right on in picking up on all of these changes, very well assessed. I am interested in seeing where they head in the next couple of years. Right now I am fairly brand loyal to AG, but that certainly could change. We’ll just have to see what happens.

      • I wonder if they have even thought about doing fantasy at all or are hesitant to simply because of the lack of interest for some of the other lines they have come out with on the side? It will be interesting to see how Wellie Wishers does. I’m not sure that introducing another line is a good idea at the moment, and the reaction I’ve seen to some of the previews of the dolls at the Toy Fair weren’t overwhelmingly positive. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Do what you do well! I think they need to stick to 18 inch dolls and perhaps add to the mini doll line. Why don’t we have clothing for the mini dolls???

        Cool that you are a band teacher! That was what my mom wanted me to do, but I knew I didn’t have the patience for it.

  2. I hope AG wakes up and realizes they’re not the only game in town and lowers their prices. Not just for sale items, I mean lower them period. I talked to another person in the doll biz, and truth be told, it costs maybe between $20-$25 to make an AG doll. So selling them for $120 is ridiculous. And yes, quality is definitely going down. Some of OG’s items are better quality than AG now. And 18 inch dolls on Etsy is big business! I’ve said this before and I’l say it again. AG should sell their dolls in their underwear, and let the buyer decide if they want historical or modern clothes and accessories. Let’s face it, most people buy the historicals and then turn them into modern day dolls anyway. (which drives me nuts!) But they should keep the books. And I wish they would ditch that dumb GOTY thing. The whole “Let’s make people rush to buy this doll and her gear as quickly as possible so we can grab their money” concept leaves me cold. To say nothing of the fact that NONE of them have been black. We came close w/ Sonali but she was a best friend, and not black. And really, only 3 historical black dolls? And AG claims to be so diverse! @@

    • I’m not only tired of the price of the dolls, but these ridiculously high ticket items. Unfortunately though, as long as someone buys them and they sell out, we may be stuck with them at these prices. And why don’t they go back to making the GOTY for a 2 year thing like they did originally, but again, there are too many people who go for the hype and buy entire sets every single year. That’s the problem too, so many people in the “keep up with the Jones'” mentality who buy all of this stuff at the over-inflated prices in mass quantities. When GOTY came out, the collections were manageable. I personally don’t have room to store all of these larger pieces, so my interest in them is zero.

      The other problem is lack of quality, but a group of people who don’t seem to care. They see the name “American Girl” on something, and instantly, it’s the most wonderful thing on the planet. I get tired of reading poorly written reviews that rave about how wonderful something is when in actuality, it’s an overpriced piece of crap! I’m nothing if I’m not honest about how I feel about some of their items, which is probably why I will never be one of those people who gets selected to do any kind of work for them. However, that will never, ever change my honest reviews. If I think something is great, I’ll say so, but I’m also not going to present something as wonderful when it isn’t.

      The diversity issue is huge, and I was very let down with the comments made by the woman in the interview for the Melody preview. They really don’t have a clue when it comes to representation of minorities. I just hope that with her release, they don’t decide to discontinue Addy or Josefina, I think that would be a shame. There are so many minority groups they could choose to represent, but we continually are having blonde haired-blue eyed dolls shoved down our throats. Lea’s ethnicity infuriated me, she was supposed to be part Brazilian, but by the time the story came out, she was so watered down, it was a “why bother” situation. I don’t know what they are afraid of, they’ve taken some chances on ideas that totally bombed, why not a black GOTY (or Indian, or Asian (not watered down) or Middle-Eastern) and see how it goes. I think they might be surprised.

      I have no problem with girls turning their historical dolls into modern dolls, but it does bother me when they get completely away from the original aspect by renaming them, erasing the story, etc. I have 3 historical dolls in my stories that I have modernized, but I’ve retained the idea of the historical aspect by keeping certain elements from the books as part of their lives and made them descendants of the original characters. Unfortunately though, as Jen pointed out, kids these days don’t want to play in a historical setting, it’s all about fantasy. Just read the stories on some of the other doll blogs written by the younger set, and it’s evident what a huge influence fantasy literature has been on that generation of kids. Throw in all of the conventions and merchandising for some of that genre, and it’s not that much of a surprise. While I’m not wild about a regular diet of that kind of thing, at least they are reading something and expanding their imaginations. Which is better than not reading at all.

  3. Being Canadian, the pricing issue is even worse for us. What with the exchange rate and inflated shipping prices, it winds up being about $180 to buy even one AG doll. That’s outrageous to me!

    We often turn to eBay instead. We also make a lot of the big ticket items ourselves. I’ve come to realize that with most of the AG products, if you can reproduce them yourself, it is just as much fun, and has just as much play value as the real thing. Oh, and you don’t have some guilty $500 play thing sitting in your corner gathering dust as your daughter grows out of it. (And heaven forbid, if it all gets broken or lost!)

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the AG brand, but I figure, anyone with enough cash can just dole it out to pay for some brand new clone of what everyone else has. Where not everyone can make it from scratch, and then tweak it to make it their very own. That’s more special to me.

    For instance, when we recreated Grace’s bakery, I found the measurements of the actual bakery to be a tad small. It seemed like it would be difficult to maneuver more than one doll around inside of it, so we made ours bigger, and we omitted the front doors because they would just be in the way. We also adjusted the roof to let in more light. My daughter was thrilled. She can sit inside of it! LOL! And she could care less if it’s the real thing. Homemade is just as worthy to her. 🙂

    As for a fantasy line of dolls, I think it’s a great idea. I think it is in AG’s best interest to stay on top of the current trends. Of course, as an author of young adult novels, I am all for anything that keeps kids reading, and using their imaginations! It would get them away from the electronic gadgets for a while at least. 🙂

    ginnie / http://www.fakingitmostly.com

    • “anyone with enough cash can just dole it out to pay for some brand new clone of what everyone else has. Where not everyone can make it from scratch, and then tweak it to make it their very own. That’s more special to me.”

      EXACTLY! I knew there was a reason I liked you, my thoughts exactly! 🙂

      AG needs to find that fine line between what is trendy and what is lasting. I don’t know that they have found it just yet in today’s market.

      • 🙂 ❤ ❤ ❤ 🙂

        Absolutely spot on! I've always wondered why AG doesn't do more interesting outfits. Legging outfits are great, (just not worth thirty odd dollars in my opinion), but there should definitely be some medieval gowns or warrior princess outfits. 🙂 I mean, it's all in the name of imaginative play, right?

  4. I am all for little girls using their imagination and creating their own props for their AG dolls. As for reading, I am all for more of that, and less electronic gadgets. My son’s ask me if I would like to have a Kindle for Mothers Day, to which I said “absolutely not”. There is something special about holding a book in your hand, feeling the paper, smelling the paper and ink, and putting a bookmark at the place you have left off,or referencing a passage you want to remember for a later time. Being a library person, I worry about what is going to happen to those institutions if everyone goes to the internet to add a book or chapter to their Kindle. I think it is just laziness to rely on the internet for these things.

    In regard to the AG mini doll line…I have been hesitant in purchasing any of them as they are stuck with their go to meet outfits, with no costume changes available. I think AG needs to come out with a line for several of the mini’s so you have some clothing changes for them. Also, being a bit smaller, it would afford playtime stories to begin for little girls who don’t have parents who want to pay large sums of money, and also don’t have the room to store all the stuff you accumulate for an 18″ doll. I will now step down off of my soap-box.
    ET 2

    • The other issue with relying on the internet for everything is sometimes it doesn’t work! A similar issue with cell phones, all these people dumping their land lines, but if a disaster would strike, they might find themselves without a way to call for help. I think of all the issues that occurred on 9/11 with cell phone service. I realize that was a few years back, but just recently the company my husband works for had a huge technology “fail” that really left them in a terrible situation. Technology is great, but it’s not everything! And we are doing the children of today a huge disservice in not teaching them both methods. Unfortunately, AG seems to be gravitating to technology at a rapid pace, hoping that they don’t lose the old ideas in the process.

  5. I hope in the future they start to offer more accessory sets and less big ticket items. It doesn’t seem like they make/sell many of the big pieces and that target audience has to run out of room eventually haha…

    • I agree completely, I’m one of those people. I was drooling over the OG ice cream truck, would love to have it, but I quite honestly don’t know where I would put it! I loved Grace’s bakery too, but again, that thing was enormous and I just don’t have the space, even if I did feel like spending that kind of money.

      Something I would like to see is more separates where you can mix and match. What they have in that area is limited and primarily only available in store. Kind of along the lines of Build A Bear, maybe not quite that extensive. Basics like jeans, t-shirts, skirts–without a star on them!

  6. I think OG and the My Life items have really given AG a run for their money – literally! I see AG items WAY over-priced on ebay all the time. It is like you said about Beanie Babies. When they were the rage people thought they’d pay for college, now you can’t give them away! I think that you are right that kids play very differently today. Most kids play video games and have a harder time using their own imagination for play – scary.

    • AG items on Ebay drive me bananas. Lots of stuff not moving though, so we are not alone. And yes, very scary how little kids are encouraged to use their imaginations these days.

  7. I agree with all your points in the what you hope to see happen list.
    I think the reason AG has not gone into the fantasy market is that the elaberate costumes would be expensive to make. Lately instead of going toward quality that would be expected in fantasy costumes e.g. leather, they have been using inexpensive fabrics. Making long, layered outfits with lots of accessories would cost AG more and they do not seem to be willing.
    I would love to see more QUALITY accessories!!! I have been very impressed with Our Generation in the past couple of years – I absolutely love their accessory packs and they can hardly keep them in the stores! I would love to see AG re-release some of the great accessories like Kit’s waffle maker with the same quality! I want to see wood, metal and lots of details not plastic!!!! Sharon

    • You are probably right. I have noticed a lowering of quality in the material used on their clothing in addition to the change to too much plastic on accessories. And higher prices…grrrrrr…

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