The Newly Founded (or Nearly Dead) Toy Frenzy



There were watermelon cups, Tibetan fabrics, and, of course, a lot of fidget spinners.

An annual celebration known as Brazilian Day took over 25 blocks of Sixth Avenue on Labor Day weekend. Among the hundreds of vendors was Zhaoshi Hu, who worked for a fidget spinner business that owned eight stands.

“Today was good,” said Hu, who came from China two years ago and has been selling fidget spinners since June. “We’ve already sold more than $1,500.”

With a few more hours left to sell more gadgets, Hu knew the day would only get better. What she couldn’t know, however, was how long these good days of selling would last. It’s the looming question with any trendy item: When will the spike in popularity end?

Originally designed as a therapeutic tool to minimize distraction for children with ADHD and autism, fidget spinners have been around for years without attracting much attention. And then, suddenly, it hit. According to Google Trends, the search interest for the term “fidget spinner” picked up from virtually nothing in February, skyrocketed throughout the spring and peaked at 100, the maximum interest level, in mid-May.

Google Trends showing search interest for the term “fidget spinner” peaked in May.

The problem for sellers, though, is that the peak in search interest is followed by an immediate decline. That fall is almost as steep as the increase – and accompanied by a drop in online sales, which peaked around the same time as the search interest, according to a report in May from Slice Intelligence, a data company that measures digital commerce activity and customer loyalty.

Data from Slice Intelligence showing that online sales of fidget spinners peaked in May.

The same report notes that more than half of the online sales of fidget spinners came from people aged 35 to 50. It could mean that the GenX population wants them – or that they’re buying the toy for their children.

“Most of the people buying fidget spinners are tourists and kids,” said Sherry Hu, who is Zhaoshi Hu’s twin sister. “Parents are buying because their kids begged them to.”

Some schools have decided to ban the use of the gadget. In April, M.S. 442 in Brooklyn posted on its Facebook page that the school decided to do so because they “are small in size, but can seriously hurt someone,” as students tossed them around in the hallway and cafeteria.

Lael Shapiro, a 38-year-old father of two, said his kids’ school in Connecticut also decided to ban fidget spinners because “they’re distractions.”

But Shapiro, standing by Hu’s stall as his son and daughter tried out different gadgets, was considering buying more, even though he had already bought six for them.

“They’ve been asking for fidget spinners for a long time,” he said. “If they finally buy it, we can put this issue to bed.”

But it won’t end: there will always be the next thing kids beg their parents for. In fact, shortly before fidget spinner became popular, hoverboards were the must-have.

Based on analytics from Google Trends, people’s appetite for knowledge about fidget spinner follows similar patterns for interest in hoverboards, or Segways, whose popularity stemmed from exposure on social media.

It took longer for search interest in hoverboard to peak, but it plummeted almost immediately, and is now close to where it was before the craze began. The search interest in fidget spinners has already sunk since the peak in May. If it follows recent trends, it will continue to fall until it hits the bottom.

“This is basically the now version of the Furby,” said Michael Garufi, a 32-year-old who just moved to New York City from upstate, referring to a similar frenzy in late 1990s and early 2000s over an owl-like toy known as Furby.

“This is just another must-have,” he said, walking away empty-handed.