I don’t know where my parents purchased my old metal swing set, but, I do know it was many years before there was an Internet or Amazon.com. Today’s families are no longer limited to what can find in their own city or town. The Internet has virtually opened up the world to us and buying big toys online might be the only option.
The downside of buying online is that you lose that face-to-face interaction, can face big return shipping fees if something goes wrong or wait weeks for replacement parts. We here at Cool Outdoor Toys can’t promise you that every online purchase of a big toy will go smoothly, but, we hope this article will provide some suggestions on what to look for before you pull out your credit card.
If you know what you want to buy and just aren’t sure which model or vendor to use, we suggest creating a comparison chart of pros and cons. Go deeper than simple product specifications. Looking at the reviews with a critical eye can teach you far more than you can learn from a visit to the original manufacturer’s website.
Read the Reviews Before Buying Big Toys
It can’t be stressed enough, online reviews can save you from making a bad decision. The trick is to read them with a critical eye and filter out the nonsense. Here’s the top things to look for in the reviews when buying big toys online.
“Real” Size of Assembled Big Toy
There’s two sizes you need to consider before buying any big toy – the size of the finished toy and the space needed to put it together. How many of us have purchased those put it together yourself bookcases? There’s been more than a few times we found ourselves playing a very expensive game of Twister trying to avoid hitting existing furniture or stepping on the pieces and parts of the one we were assembling. Go through the reviews and Q & A sections to see if any other families had issues with either mis-stated sizes or the need for extra space to assemble the big toy.
Ideally, those families given products for free or at a discount for their “honest review” are being truthful about their experiences. Unfortunately, many are giving things high ratings simply to keep the flow of freebies coming. That’s not to say that reviews by product testers should be completely ignored, I would just suggest you focus on the details of their reviews rather than their star ratings.
We Didn’t, But…
Don’t you just love those folks who proclaim something stinks when they are at fault? The “We didn’t read the product description” or the “We didn’t follow the instructions, but that doesn’t mean it should have . . .fell apart or broke” folks who created their own problems.
While many of these reviews are useless, there can be some great information in them. Some folks offer suggestions on how to improve safety by purchasing stronger tie-down systems for play structures and swing sets. Some suggest better paints, stains and adhesives to use. And, some make invaluable suggestions on replacement parts, adding strength/durability or even adding fun options that the manufacturer never dreamed of.
I suspect “Assembly Required” is one of those two-word phrases that strikes fear into most parent’s hearts. There’s nothing like pulling an all-nighter on Christmas Eve desperately trying to assemble something from Santa. Don’t be that parent. The reviews can often give you a good idea of how long it takes to assemble the big toy, how many people should be involved and if any special tools or extra materials are required. If the assembly of the toy requires tools that you don’t have, call your local home improvement stores – many offer tool rental options, some even for smaller hand-held tools. If you don’t all of the tools or extra materials needed, don’t forget to add them to your overall budget.
Watch the Dates
Read the reviews from newest to oldest. Companies often change their products. Those changes could be fixes of previous problems or could have introduced new ones. While the overall star rating might be mediocre, it could simply reflect a manufacturing defect that has since been corrected. However, watch out for those items where the newer reviews are complaints about quality or other issues with big toy purchases.
Visit the Manufacturer’s Website Before Buying Big Toys
Another way to help ensure the transaction goes smoothing when buying big toys online is to visit the manufacturer’s site if you are purchasing the item from a third party like Amazon, Toys-R-Us, WalMart, etc.
Top things to look for . . .
- Do they sell or offer spare parts?
- Does the big toy use “consumable” pieces that have to be replaced? How easy are they to find and how expensive are they?
- Can the big toy be customized?
- Are there extra features that need to be purchased separately?
- Do they have a customer support forum? And, if they do, do they answer questions promptly or are customers left on their own to help each other?
- Do they have a toll-free phone number to help families who buy their big toys online? Call them before you take the plunge and see how well they answer your questions.
- If you purchase from a third-party, do they offer less support than if you purchase the big toy directly from the manufacturer?
- Do they share copies of their installation or build instructions for free downloading? Even if you don’t find your particular model on their site, it can be helpful to look over their other sets of instructions. Ask yourself if they make sense or leave the buyer pretty much on their own to play a life-sized version of tinker toys.
- Do they mention any special tools or materials required for assembly?
- With wooden items, look to see if the wood comes pre-finished or pre-painted. Some “raw” kits may include the finishes and others will require a trip to the hardware store.
- What are their policies on items damaged in shipment, manufacturing defects or missing parts?
- And, the obvious, how do their warranties and guarantees read? And, do families report they received great support or were abandoned by the manufacturer?
Buying Big Toys Online
Buying big toys online can sometimes be the only option. The trick is finding the best combination of quality and safety that can fit within your budget. It can be worrisome making a big purchase without the benefit of seeing and touching the item first. Hopefully, this guide has offered some ideas you might not have thought of and will make you more confident in the choices you make and avoid some of the more common buying mistakes.