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America's hottest toy: A cheap way to chill, or major distraction?

Fidget toys disrupting class
Fidget toys disrupting class 01:27

Are fidget toys a passing fad or an instant classic? Adults and kids are snapping up toys in the category; some, like Fidget Spinners and Fidget Cubes, have suddenly become household names, while others, like Koosh balls, have been on the market for decades.

Though they can vary in price, with some selling for close to $200, fidget toys tend to be low cost. The top 30 best-selling toys on Amazon (AMZNare fidget toys, and all retail for less than $10. 

Fidget toys have grown so popular that manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand. The items are also causing headaches for educators, with many school districts around the U.S. banning certain fidget toys for being a distraction in the classroom.  

Originally created as tools to help people focus and relieve stress, fidget toys have various textures and are designed to be manipulated -- spinning toys involve controlling a button mechanism, while cubes have various types of clickers or rollers.

A fidget spinner from ZURU toys. ZURU

This helps explain the toys' appeal for children and adults, though Richard Gottlieb, chief executive officer of Global Toy Experts, said the groups use fidget toys in different ways. He calls fidget toys "skill toys," which are "a fad" for most kids.   

National Toy Association spokeswoman Adrienne Appell likened the sudden, viral nature of demand for fidget toys to other recent retail trends; "It's the hunt for the 'unicorn' -- you saw it with the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino, with LulaRoe leggings going mainstream. We're seeing more and more of it in the toy industry."

Social networks increases the speed at which a toy's popularity spreads, and Gottlieb said the transient nature of viral toys tends to be measured in a nine month boom-and-bust cycle. 

But fidget toys may have staying power with adults, since their reputation as a way to work off energy at the office works in their favor, Gottlieb added. "With adults it's Brexit, North Korea, Donald Trump, Syria. We're very much peaking in angst, and adults are responding by finding ways like this to work it off."

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