After a meteoric rise to the top of toy charts the world over in early spring, fidget spinners looked to be the toy of the summer, if not the decade. But that fad is losing momentum. For months, fidget spinners–specific models of the ball-bearing-based genre–monopolized the top ten ranking for toys purchased on Amazon.com. Now, on the other side of an inflection point that seems to have arrived in May, spinners have ceded spots to Cards Against Humanity, pool toys, and Hatchimals. The toys, which very recently constituted 17 percent of daily online toy sales, seem to be declining in popularity with buyers, if not kids.
But what lead to the gadget’s popularity in the first place? For starters, fidget spinners didn’t have a patent. Catherine Hettinger is credited with creating the device back in 2005 (whether or not she did is pretty unclear), but allowed the patent to expire. Cheap to make, easy to ship and free to license, toy companies scrambled to release their own versions to market as quickly as possible back in January. The spinner’s marketed usefulness as an aid for hyperactivity and its rise to social media stardom made it a bonafide trend, a blockbuster trinket.
For context, the highest selling toy last year was Hasbro’s Pie Face Showdown Game, with runners-up consisting of Elmo Learn2Love and Hatchimals. Generally speaking, the top toys and games tend to be either established properties or unique, easily grasped concept-dreven gadgets and board games. Fidget spinners were and are in anomaly in their simplicity. Fidget spinners don’t require a long explanation or an understanding of rules or a pool. They require fingers and excess energy. Their point is their pointlessness.
The potential economic pitfall of the spinner trend is that it’s undeniable exponential growth led to board room scrambles led to many big toy distributors following the leader into the fidget spinner business too late. Toys ‘R Us and Walmart only received their first shipments in the first two weeks of May, right as the fidget spinner enthusiasm hit its inflection point and began to subside. With fidget spinners unlikely to make a comeback and customer interest waning, the likeliest outcome seems to be a long slide into irrelevance and possibly landfills outside of Shenzhen, China, where factories went all in (and began demanding payment in bags of cash) at the first sign of a hit.