Kiwi bargain hunters pump an estimated $8 billion a year into the pockets of businesses based overseas. Photo / NZME
“Has anyone got three AA batteries?”
That was the Christmas Day anthem. Children would unwrap toys with packaging promising flashing lights, radio controllers, moving parts, and tinny recorded audio, only to realise that the
toy of their dreams would not work without that rare and highly sought-after object – the battery.
Realising their fatal mistake, parents, grandparents, aunties, and uncles would begin the Great Battery Scavenger Hunt – opening remotes, radios, torches, and clocks, searching for anything that might yield a battery or two to quell the Christmas beasts.
But gadgets are often designed to be charged by USB these days, and battery-operated plastic toys are also falling out of favour as new generations of parents eschew the chemical-laden, waste-creating materials of their youth.
The Great Battery Scavenger Hunt is becoming a relic.
“I don’t want my baby ingesting BPAs and phthalates,” or “we prefer heuristic play items for our little one,” say the parents of the 2020s. A whole new vocabulary to go along with a whole new world of parenting.
And, of course, there’s always money to be made from new parents. We parents of the 2020s have a lot to be afraid of – and fear is a wonderful marketing tool.
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We’re told that babies need constant nurturing, cuddles, and attachment to avoid becoming emotionally-stunted adults.
We’re told that sugar is the devil, that plastic is poison, that yelling causes irreparable damage.
We’re told that every single minute spent with your child has the potential to make or break their futures – so spend them wisely. Or else.
And, to ensure you don’t royally screw up, there’s a veritable avalanche of books, online courses, and developmentally appropriate and aesthetically-pleasing educational toys to buy. Because your child is worth it, right? Right? Right.
We’re sold on a parenting philosophy combining the carefree childhoods of yesterday with the developmental science of today.
There’s a booming market for the classic stuff many of you likely played with when you were children – wooden cars, knitted bears, clothes peg dolls, stackers, shape sorters. The stuff from simpler times.
Of course, being on trend, these items now often have a gigantic price tag attached.
For example, a heuristic play set containing items like large wooden buttons, a soft make-up brush, a natural loofah, a metal jar rings, a wooden ring with ribbons tied to it, and colourful organza scarves can set you back $30 to $80.
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(For those not in the know, heuristic play is giving children everyday objects, made of naturally-occurring materials, to encourage imagination and discovery. Technical stuff.)
In my books that’s a lot of money for some pretty basic play equipment. But, of course, being a parent of the 2020s, I had to have one or else face the fires of eternal damnation for child neglect.
I wasn’t about to pay that kind of money though, so I decided to make my own set.
Some of it was easy. I crocheted a couple of small coaster-looking thingies out of cotton yarn. I bought a wooden spoon, a metal egg cup, and some silky scarves from an op shop. I already had an old metal bangle, ribbons, and some wooden pegs. So far so good.
But I couldn’t find the large wooden buttons, the make-up brush, and the wooden ring anywhere.
So, the Millennial that I am, I turned to the internet. I visited an international website that shall not be named.
Twenty bucks or so later and I had small quantities of all the above (plus some stacking cups, a maraca, and some baby socks with rattles on the toes) ready to be shipped to my home address. And they arrived, all as expected, within six weeks, with plenty of leftovers for other crafting purposes.
It wasn’t the first or the last time that I’d turn to international websites to buy items that were much – much – cheaper than what I could find in a local shop.
I do have twinges of guilt for buying from these websites, knowing they wrack up a huge carbon footprint and have a high chance of exploitative labour practices somewhere along the supply chain.
But then I’ll be checking out a small business and realise that some of their products have come straight from websites like the one I visited , with only a bit of pretty packaging to justify the exorbitant price difference (if that). Those websites are the modern equivalent of buying wholesale, after all.
I do think it is important to shop locally. And I’ll always make an effort to support local businesses that produce their own goods or employ local people to provide a service.
But if my choice is between a local business person selling a product from such a site at mark-up or buying the exact same thing straight from the source, I’ll probably choose the cheaper option.
I can even do it while helping my child build developmentally-appropriate towers out of his locally-sourced wooden blocks – and I don’t even have to take my slippers off.
Sonya Bateson is a writer, reader and crafter raising her family in Tauranga. She is a Millennial who enjoys eating avocado on toast, drinking lattes and defying stereotypes. As a sceptic, she reserves the right to change her mind when presented with new evidence.