When I hear parents talking about Shopkins, they’re usually saying they don’t understand them. “What are they for? What do they do? What are they supposed to be?”
For the uninitiated, Shopkins is line of tiny plastic toys, about the size of your thumb or smaller, from Australian-owned Moose Toys. Kids collect them and trade them with friends and classmates. They’re super-popular—stores struggle to keep them in stock, especially during the holidays.
Shopkins are so not me. They’re a perfect example of consumerist culture, something I’m usually quite critical of. I’m known as a great thrift shopper—I frequent secondhand stores and yard sales, and I purchase used items online. While my five-year-old daughter Anna and I own a fair bit of stuff, it’s mostly hand-me-downs.
So people who know me might be surprised that I’m pro-Shopkins. But it’s true—I actually really like them. Here’s why.
1. They speak to the collector in me
As a kid, I collected all sorts of things, especially seashells and stickers. But there were also toys, figurines and charm bracelets. It’s a childhood rite of passage to collect something, and not every kid is going to be into the more “old-school” collectibles like coins, stamps or rocks. Kids memorize the details of every “season” of Shopkins, and while that may not be a practical talent, it gives them something to be an expert in, which is something they can feel good about. It also usually creates a situation where they can be organized and disciplined about something.
2. They’re inexpensive
I can hear some of you objecting to this statement already. My daughter Anna does not obsess over every Shopkin, nor is she invested in finding the rare collectibles. So I don’t know the pain that comes with that. But, as an occasional treat, spending $2 on a Shopkin at the dollar store, or $5 for a two-pack that comes with a little basket, doesn’t seem like a big deal (I’m not sure what kids are supposed to do with all those baskets, however). I see parents buying their kids a cookie or hot chocolate all the time. This is no different. There are much pricier treats kids could ask for, and Shopkins are also something they could buy with their allowance if they’re the right age for that.
3. They don’t take up space
My daughter keeps her Shopkins in a case that once contained a fancy pen. She’s ready to upgrade, but a shoebox will suit us just fine until she grows out of them. This may not be the case if you’re buying one of the full play sets (supermarkets, bakeries, etc). But Shopkins can go over to friends’ houses in a pocket, and as far as taking up space and being washable, I’d say they’re much better than the average stuffed animal. I’ve heard complaints from some that they’re easy to lose, which is true, but this means they’re also easy to find—literally anywhere. We found a little green juice jug from season one (Coolio) on the ground while waiting to cross the street the other day.
4. They’re the lesser of (many) evils
They may not be educational, but Shopkins encourage imaginative play and are far less offensive and annoying than many of the toys on the market these days. They don’t talk, they don’t need batteries, they don’t require a large group to play and they don’t play into stereotypes or body-image issues. Have you spent any time with a Bratz doll or a robotic cat? Give me a Shopkins collection over an Elmo-of-the-moment any day.
5. They’re suitable for kids of all ages
Anna was introduced to Shopkins last spring at my grandmother’s 90th birthday party. She was four at the time and the only other kid there was much older. This nine-year-old relative had brought a bag full of Shopkins along with her and she and Anna played with them together. Their interest in the toys, and what they could do with them, may have differed a bit, but they had fun deciding who was going to be which Shopkin and they lined them up in various ways. Recently, at a Hanukkah party, each of the kids (whose ages ranged from four to seven) received a Shopkin and left the party quite happy.
6. They’re undeniably cute
I rarely like “cute” things (save teacup pigs), but Shopkins are pretty adorable. Tiny milk containers and little cookies with tiny faces? Cute! Teeny pies and happy dumplings? Adorable! Admittedly, there are some strange ones (I’m looking at you, toilet plunger), too.
7. They’re straightforward
There’s no secret ploy behind Shopkins—you’re buying things about buying things. The theme, while not necessarily high on my list to promote, is shopping. Buying toys is a consumerist activity—however, this toy doesn’t hide it. It’s either a slap in the face, or somewhat genius. I, for one, appreciate the honesty.
8. They’re “punny”
If an asparagus with a little face doesn’t capture your heart, could you get into it for the puns? Each Shopkin (like many doll franchises) comes with its own name and profile. Many of the names are puns: the yogurt is called Ghurty (not Gertie), and there’s also Frank Furter, Cherie Tomato, Cheese Kate…
9.The element of surprise
Shopkins come in “blind bags” unless you buy the larger play sets (in those, you can see all but one surprise Shopkin). Kids love an element of surprise, and while they don’t know if it’s something they already have, it still provides them with the opportunity to open a “gift” and experience that thrill.
10. They make great bribes (and are easy to stockpile)
Because of reasons #2 (the cost) and #3 (their size), it’s easy to say, “Do [x] this week and you’ll get a treat” and make a Shopkin the surprise. Got a long bus ride ahead of you? Well, a Shopkin foil bag is easy to pack away in your purse for such an occasion. And, because they’re all the rage, you can buy them on sale, stash them away and know you have a good gift for whatever birthday party your kid gets invited to next. Now you’re the Best Mom Ever! Thank you, dollar store.
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a five-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.