Jigsaw puzzle retail – missing a few pieces?

You would have noticed from your friends’ Facebook posts in the past 12 months that jigsaw puzzling is back on the rise for adults. Not just in Australia, but everywhere – and not just because it’s a good-value activity, with the average cost of a 1000-piece jigsaw not much more than a full-price movie ticket, with the fun lasting several days instead of two hours.

Puzzle are making a comeback because they tap into the broader wellbeing trend, reducing stress and anxiety and possibly preventing dementia.

Celebrity puzzle fans include writer Stephen King, Bill Gates and even the Queen.

Yet despite the growth of puzzle sales, many physical and online retailers are failing to capitalise on the spend, average weight of purchase and basket size increase opportunities a growing pool of puzzle enthusiasts presents.

The first jigsaw puzzles were wooden and became commercially available around 1760. Because they were so costly, for the first century or so the puzzles – or “dissected maps” – were predominantly used as educational tools for wealthy children to learn about geography.

This all changed at the turn of the 20th century when puzzles for adults were introduced, along with cheaper cardboard puzzles. Puzzles really took off across Europe and the US during the Great Depression, when people were looking for low-cost entertainment.

Fast forward to 2010, when in the US there were sales of around three million units nationwide. But this pales in comparison on a per capita basis to Israel, which in the same year had 1.2 million unit sales for a population 44 times smaller.

These days, puzzles are getting bigger (up to 40,000 pieces) and harder, and novelties have been introduced – puzzles are in 3D, or they’re round, or they glow in the dark.

Custom puzzles use images provided by the consumer, and there’s now a raft of puzzle accessories ranging from boards, piece-sorting storage units and cases, to frames, glues and roll-up mats.

In the past 10 years, with the decline of physical toy/game and bookstores, there has been a plethora of online puzzle specialists pop up. Examples include Puzzlewarehouse.com (US) – claiming to be the world’s largest puzzle store – Jigthings (US, UK), AllJigsawPuzzles (UK’s largest), IEG Puzzels (Netherlands), and in Australia Jigsawstore and PuzzlePalace.

Puzzles are still sold in department stores and mass merchants, and even in places like Officeworks. In the US, bookseller Barnes & Noble and even Walmart range them.

But a casual trawl across some of these websites indicates that few appear to be taking real advantage of the uptrade opportunities available, which include:

    • Bundling accessories with a puzzle buy – or at least prompting an accessory sale;
    • Prompting a wooden jigsaw or “heirloom” purchase in addition to the planned purchase or for a special person or occasion (Stave Puzzles in the US has been making wooden puzzles since 1974);
    • AWOP-based multibuy deals, given the comparatively low price points, ie one puzzle for $30 or two for $50;
    • Selling in sets, if it’s obvious a buyer is interested in a certain type of puzzle (animals, or European castles, or whatever);
    • Gifting opportunities for adults – birthdays etc, including accessories;
  • Encouraging a custom puzzle buy – you supply the image, we make it for you.

It should be all about increasing spend, given the number of ways and products with which to do it and the high level of category involvement of many of the shoppers.

Try doing THAT with a book.


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