Is enabling young kids to buy toys online a teaching tool or something else?

Source: Camp NYC
May 19, 2021

Even with action figures and collectibles having a sizable following among adults  these days, toy stores are still mostly built on getting kids to beg their parents to buy them something. Small toy store chain Camp NYC, however, has launched a new model that not only puts the buying power in the hands of the children, but gets them hooked on online shopping early.

Kids as young as three can shop independently online at Camp NYC if their parents set up an account on the store’s just-launched “Present Shop” section, according to The Wall Street Journal. Parents designate who the child can purchase toys for (themselves, friends, family members, etc.) and set a budget, after which children can shop with limited oversight.

While has had a similar service in place since 2017, that service is targeted toward kids aged 13 to 17. Camp NYC envisions the new service as the e-commerce version of parents giving their kids money to spend at the mall.

Moves by retailers aimed at turning children into online shoppers are controversial, the Journal reports. Children’s advocates have raised alarms about privacy concerns and social risks as companies like Facebook, for instance, have started trying to bring very young people into the fold of their user bases.

Camp NYC launched in Manhattan’s Flatiron District in 2018. The store’s first location features immersive in-store experiences, such as a space featuring a light-up dance floor and a stage for improvised performances, all of which are only accessible behind a secret wall in the toy store.

Retailers that depended on in-store experience as a draw were, however, negatively impacted as the novel coronavirus pandemic restricted how they were able to conduct business beginning in March 2020. Such realities may have pushed retailers like Camp NYC to look more creatively at e-commerce offerings.

The retailer’s COVID-19 FAQ page indicates that stores had been closed in accordance with local guidelines but are now slowly allowing visitors back in with safety protocols in place.

The retailer now has five locations, three of which are in New York City, one in Connecticut and one in Dallas, according to the company’s website.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will Present Shop prove successful for Camp NYC, or is it more likely to create a backlash against the retailer? What are the benefits and drawbacks of incentivizing children to shop online and where should retailers draw the line between meeting a consumer need and exploiting an unsophisticated audience?

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24 Comments on "Is enabling young kids to buy toys online a teaching tool or something else?"

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Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Director of Commerce
1 year 4 months ago

Wow. I don’t think I could be a hip parent when it comes to this. So many different things like privacy and financial issues would really bother me if I gave my kids free rein to buy on an e-commerce website. My kids are grown, but I am looking forward to hearing from members with children in this demographic – am I looking at this from a jaded perspective?

Georganne Bender

Nope, not jaded. I’m with you, my Millennial daughter with two kids agrees too.

Zel Bianco

This is a really bad idea. Most parents buy their kids plenty of toys. They have so many toys that kids act like they have ADD in deciding which to pick up and which to put down. There are now credit card companies pushing for providing kids with their own credit card! Their rationale is that they can get used to being responsible with money from an early age! No, the answer is no and parents should recognize these strategies for what they are – a money grab, pure and simple.

Georganne Bender

Well, isn’t that special? Let’s get kids as young as three “hooked on online shopping early.” I know that this requires parents’ permission but come on, it’s predatory.

Children have no control over the things they want, remember circling a gazillion things in the Sears catalog? Sure Camp NYC thinks this is a good idea, it’s a self-serving program designed to put easy money in the register. #smh

DeAnn Campbell

If retailers put strong boundaries in place on the shopping site, this is just today’s version of a home economics class to teach children how to manage their money. But like everything, it will depend on how involved parents get in helping their children learn the value of money, or how to resist impulse buys to save up for a larger item. Camp’s motives do emit a hint of the aroma of self-serving avarice but, given their status as a dedicated toy store, it’s hard to see a down side in this instance. But there is a significant danger if other, less restrained companies take this too far. At the end of the day, like it or not this is where we are as a society today, and the sooner we all learn that money spent online is as real as what is spent in-store, the better for our future.

Gene Detroyer

I am with you with every word. I don’t understand the backlash comments. Parents are in charge. They can open it as far as they want in terms of age, amount, and products. I suspect the parents who say they don’t like this are those who don’t know how to say no.

And yes, there is a hint of avarice. But what retailer is not in it for themselves? That is not a criticism. They all should be in it for themselves.

Gary Sankary

I think the backlash is going to be swift and, in my opinion, well deserved. A toddler with an account shopping online feels absolutely wrong on every level no matter how careful the parents and company are with this.

Gene Detroyer

It is up to the parents. They could make it productive, fun and educational or they could not pay attention and let the kid run amuck. While three years old seems a bit young, I can see this as a tool for learning the value of money. “You bought X and you really wanted Y, but there is no money? Sorry.” Mistakes are the best way to learn.

Rich Kizer

The kids will love it,”how cool.” But parents on getting their kids hooked? They won’t be so happy. Someone was really not thinking clearly here.

Bob Phibbs

Don’t kid yourself. This brand is going to make plenty of money. They were able to partner with Walmart last summer and use celebrities to bring Camp to parking lots. They understand the demographics.

Teenagers are trading stocks now – all of this is inevitable. I’m sure plenty already have their own Amazon accounts whether pundits like it or not.

Ananda Chakravarty

Bob has it right. Today, the average 3rd grader is connected into their PlayStation, Xbox, or iPad and buys in-app products all the time- a SellCell survey shows 8.2% of parents say their kids buy over $100 worth monthly. Kids are actually pretty responsible and most ask their parent before buying: ages 3-12 per this article.

Jeff Sward

My applause for the bigger experiential picture of what Camp is doing comes to a screeching halt upon reading this. We already know that too much screen time for young developing brains is not a good thing. So now we give them a tablet and an allowance and say “learn to shop and spend — buy, acquire, accumulate stuff!” Makes my blood boil.

Jeff Weidauer

The most likely outcome here is a parental backlash. My 11-year-old daughter already understands online buying, but she also understands we’re not ready for her to do it on her own yet. Count me out.

Lisa Goller

Forget Hooked On Phonics; Present Shop wants kids hooked on e-commerce. A backlash is likely as the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

Benefits include parental constraints, opportunities for parents to teach kids about money and expanding the retailer’s market size.

Risks include data privacy and conditioning children to shop online as their impulse control is still developing. Getting preschoolers hooked on digital shopping habits goes too far.

Venky Ramesh

On one hand, the intention seems to be good – to teach kids to make their own decisions responsibly and early on. However the internet is a dangerous place “to get them hooked on early” even with COPPA trying to protect the kids. Just last month my 7-year-old nephew who uses his dad’s phone as a remote for the Roku device, ordered $500 worth of toys from his account. His dad found out about it after it was delivered. A few weeks back, a four-year-old boy ordered $2,618 worth of SpongeBob SquarePants popsicles on Amazon, but his mom found out too late because he had selected his aunt’s shipping address.

Ken Morris

Three years old seems young for online shopping—unless the parents and/or grandparents stay involved. It actually sounds like a good opportunity for teaching moments re: spending, budgeting, and saving. It’s essentially Five Below but online. My granddaughter can explain how this works!

From a retail experience standpoint, the Camp NYC concept is exactly what will bring shoppers into the stores. They could also play – pun intended – with the idea of BOPIS here, perhaps offering additional discounts if the order were picked up in-store. If they get the technical pieces right, this is true omnichannel in action.

Cathy Hotka

When I was a kid a thousand years ago, we had to work to earn money to buy things. When did that change?


I cannot think of any good that can come from this approach. I may be overthinking this but to me purchasing is a function of transferring value. Currency is a vessel of this transfer. My currency is created by my effort or work. I exchange my currency for a product. This creates a relationship between work/effort and reward/purchase. Allowing children to purchase items only teaches entitlement. It does not teach budgeting. It does not teach saving. It does not teach value exchange. It will be a sad day for these young “purchasers” when the reality of having to earn before purchase comes to roost.

George Anderson

The prefrontal cortex in human beings, necessary for high level cognitive functioning, isn’t fully complete to around 25 years of age. What is likely to happen to kids who have parents with disposable cash to burn turn and see online shopping as the next artificial babysitter replacing video games and the television before that? My recommendation to three-year olds looking to engage in some retail therapy is wait until your around 13 years of age and get a dog walking job like the resident teen here. My recommendation to retailers – just say no.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

When you take your three-year old to the store, there is an ongoing exchange of ideas, lessons, and setting of boundaries. When that three—year old is shopping online by herself, she lacks a voice of reason and wisdom; the power of the impulse is completely in control without any parental or adult filters. Bad idea with harmful developmental impact.

Brandon Rael

There is a fine balance between attracting the younger consumer with immersive, multi-sensory experiences and violating privacy concerns. As a Father to both a 10 and 8-year-old, I would not be comfortable with a retailer enabling underage children to buy toys online.

However, it is common knowledge that children have a powerful and direct influence on the parent’s shopping behaviors. As a parent, my children are absolutely part of the shopping journey that extends to both digital and physical shopping channels. The winners in this space include the Lego Store, the reimagined FAO Schwarz store, American Girl Place, Build a Bear, etc., that have focused on the experiential part of the equation, which leads to the parent’s purchase decision.

This is the model that most Gen X, Millennial parents would be comfortable with, as we navigate these digital-always times together.

Craig Sundstrom

“Kids as young as three…” PENALTY!

The question between exploitation and “filling a need” is a legitimate one, but this is so outré that I don’t think we need to worry just yet where it lies.

Many will file this under the “parental responsibility” tag, but unfortunately many parents just aren’t (indeed the line has never really been drawn for adults).

Ananda Chakravarty

Completely OK with this and for parents concerned about age, they’ll kick it in when the kid turns 7 or 10. The concept is really not about buying for themselves, but buying for others. It’s closer to a gifting site for the kids. Parents still control the total funds and kids are allowed to use creativity, have in-depth personalization, and are immersed in a world every single one of them will have to understand and learn by the age of 12. I can completely see how a child who would want to get a gift for grandpa’s birthday follows a series of steps to make a selection and a purchase.

This is age appropriate and completely curated. And when grandpa receives the custom made card (online) with the kid’s handwritten messages and stickers with a grandpa specific gift, I have serious doubts that there will be anything but praise for the kids’ abilities in creativity, decision making, and digital understanding. The video makes a nice case.

Kai Clarke

Enabling very young children to purchase toys online is not a teaching tool. Young children still do not have the cognitive awareness to discern the difference and value of money, value, purchasing, returns, debt, credit, and the entire online shopping experience. This is going too fast, too far and certainly has serious privacy issues for young children. This is just like giving young children their own credit cards where these same issues exist.


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