Toys ‘R’ Us Drops Gender-Specific Toy Labeling in the UK

It’s probably not a gigantic secret that I’d love to see better practices in the marketing of toys to girls. After all isn’t a toy just something to be played with? Why does it matter if a boy or a girl plays with it? We hold to the argument that toys should be made for children, not for gender.

I ran across an article recently that talked about Toys ‘R’ Us in the United Kingdom and their decision o drop gender-specific toy labeling (it wasn’t breaking news, this was announced last fall, but I just stumbled across it as I was thinking about this recently). This was really a pretty ground-breaking announcement and came following a meeting between Toys ‘R’ Us board members and a wonderful consumer advocacy group called Let Toys Be Toys.  Let Toys Be Toys asserts that marketing affects consumer behavior; a child may want a specific toy, but the child or their parent may feel uncomfortable purchasing it due to strong gender-specific labeling. With moves such as this one by Toys ‘R’ Us, now kids will feel more free to purchase toys guided by their actual interests and personalities rather than just their gender.

let toys be toys

Toys ‘R’ Us UK agreed to design and implement a set of principles that will guide their in-store signage. The changes that will occur include the removal of explicit references to gender and the addition of photo images that show boys and girls enjoying the same toys. The chain launched this initiative by taking a look at the way toys were represented in their holiday catalog, and roll out changes from there. I’d love to hear from any friends in the UK who might’ve visited a Toys ‘R’ Us in recent months and/or who receive their catalogs and the like to see what kind of changes you’re noticing, if any.

The Toys ‘R’ Us decision is not the first of its kind in Europe – their Swedish franchise, Top Toy catalog, has already implemented a similar program after urging from – guess who? – Swedish children! It seems kids may actually know what they want in terms of toys! What a radical thought!

This gives me hope that the U.S. branches of this and other major toy retailers will get on board with gender-neutral toy labeling and marketing. Until then, we can look longingly at this fabulous picture gallery on Let Toys Be Toys’ website of toy shops in the UK that are doing it right when it comes to arranging and labeling toys according to function.

What do you think about Toys ‘R” Us UK’s decision? Do you think retailers in the United States will follow suit anytime soon?

  • Autumn F.

    I think that this is a great idea for toy stores and toy franchises to follow! I do believe that girls have a natural instinct to be a “mother” and therefor tend to want to play with dolls. Boys also have more of a natural instinct to hunt and do things of that nature, so they tend to drift twards toys such as Nerf guns. Although I do notice this to be true in the majority of cases, I don’t think that toys should be specifically marked as “girl’s toy” or “boy’s toy”. When I was growing up with my younger brother I remember playing with his “boy’s toys” and he would spend time with me and my dolls. We both had equally as much fun playing with the other’s toys as we did with our own. Toys should not be gender oriented, they should be made for children to enjoy and cherish while they are still young.

  • kammi

    Um.this is interesting, since I saw that awesome Lori Day Lego ad the other day (seen below). I don’t think that toys should be gender specific at all. I think that they should encourage IDEAS, like legos did for me, or computer oriented toys did for my brother (who is now a programmer in IT). I was the opposite of the typical girl growing up (although I did have a Jem doll and a Fountain Mermaid barbie, I enjoyed playing with He-Man the most!), and thankfully my dad NEVER forced me into doing any of that “for girls only” stuff. In fact, he’d encourage me to come help him check his car in the morning or rewire parts of the house. My mom is also pretty great with cars and knows a LOT about them, too. I can’t IMAGINE how painfully insecure I would have been if I were forced into the ‘pink is for girls’ stereotype; it’s just not me. Not to mention, it’s smarter to dabble in both (and choose whichever you like) because if you understand how cars work on a basic level, you won’t be intimidated when yours shuts down (or hey, you can fix (or build) your own bike!), or you’ll be able to understand if your contractor is ripping you off on your house later on in life, or similarly (as a guy if you study home ec) know what a good diet is and good pricing for groceries consists of.

    • brendachapman

      What cool parents you have!!! Thanks for sharing!

  • kammi

    Ah well, if I can’t get the pic to post, you can google Lori Day Lego ad and find the pic of the red haired girl. It’s awesome!

  • sianychick

    This is awesome news!

    • brendachapman


  • I actually think that this is pretty great. This is hardly ever heard of here in the U.S. We are so stuck on gender roles and what’s supposed to be for girls and what’s supposed to be for boys. I actually think that this is a great move for the UK and with be of benefit to all of the children and the society there as a whole.

    Thanks for sharing this article with the bizsugar community.


    • brendachapman

      Maybe one day, if we all speak up loud enough… maybe the U.S. could move out of the 1950s!
      Thanks for joining the conversation!

  • Amanda

    I’m in Scotland and recently visited my local Toys ‘R’ Us store. I’ve been going there since I was a child, so the layout is familiar to me!

    Throughout my life toys like Lego, Playmobil, action figures, dolls, etc. have been very harshly divided between boys and girls. There are several aisles at the back, about three very pink and three very masculine which house these toys. In the rest of the store, though, games (computer and board), soft toys, bikes, outdoor toys, baby clothes and toys and other items like this are all mixed together.

    Visiting again, this didn’t seem to be very different. There is now a dedicated Lego section, so the girls’ sets aren’t on a different aisle as they used to be. Though there is no boys’ section as such the aisles that were traditionally the boys’ aisles remain so in spirit, with aisle names like “Action and Adventure” and “Construction”. As I never spent a whole lot of time there, though, perhaps it’s always been that way and I’ve never noticed.

    The girls’ section is definitely for girls. It still says “Girlz” in big glitzy letters, and is hued in pinks. It’s looked this way for a long time – I do remember this!

    Though the UK Toys ‘R’ Us website seems to be neutral – you can select by category and brands, but not by gender – the physical toy store (here, at least) is not.

    I’m grateful that I had parents and grandparents who didn’t buy me toys that were pink because I’m a girl, they bought me toys that were pink if they thought I’d like them. And they’d buy me blue ones too. My mum would often buy my sister and I boy’s clothes when we were younger because they were often made of tougher material!

    We had a range of toys growing up, from “girly” Lego Belville (my mum bought it because she was impressed with the figures’ articulation; my sister and I used them to make animations and stories with, they were great!) to “boys'” Lego Mindstorm (programmable rebuildable robots – brilliant), train sets, Barbies, constructions kits, science kits, and tonnes of art equipment. The toys we liked best were the ones we could do stuff with – tell stories, build, create.

    • brendachapman

      It’s nice to hear about parents who looked beyond the surface and gave you toys that weren’t “labeled” for you, but were something they knew you would enjoy – because of who you are.

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