Coronavirus drives up demand for puzzles

Grandparents with their grandchildren.

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As the coronavirus sweeps the country and sends millions sheltering in place, Americans are increasingly spending their time and money on puzzles.

The majority of the US population is now under lockdown instructions and businesses across the country are sending employees home. In the face of what health officials are warning of what could be months of widespread shutdowns, consumers are snapping up tried and tested indoor games, running out of stock and driving up prices.

Video game maker Ravensburger has seen US puzzle sales jump 370% year-over-year in the past two weeks, according to the company’s North America CEO, Filip Francke.

Francke said the company had never seen anything like it before in its 136-year history. In 2019, the company sold a total of 21 million puzzles worldwide and recorded an average rate of seven puzzles per minute sold in North America. Taking into account the recent surge, the company is moving closer to an average of 20 puzzles sold per minute in North America for 2020.

“Puzzles aren’t a necessity, of course, but the consumer is telling us clearly that there’s an important need that we can help fill in these times,” Francke said.

Ravensburger’s current volume rivals its typical peak holiday season sales, he said.

The surge in demand is familiar to Anne Williams, puzzle historian and emeritus professor of economics at Bates College. She said it was comparable to the demand during the Great Depression.

By February 1933, makers were churning out 10 million puzzles a week, Williams said, and people could rent puzzles for a nickel a night.

Williams said it’s not uncommon for Americans to turn to puzzles during times of economic uncertainty.

“It’s something you can control, when they felt like their life was totally out of control as far as the economy was concerned,” Williams said. “It’s also a challenge you can beat.”

Meeting demand despite headwinds

Companies across the country are scrambling to meet the growing demand for puzzles. Online retailer Puzzle Warehouse has hired 30 people to deal with a 10-fold increase in orders and associated shipping delays, according to CEO Brian Way. The company’s sales have already exceeded those typically seen at Christmas.

Springbok, another big puzzle maker, delivers around the clock, according to the company.

And like most industries, puzzle makers face headwinds when it comes to personnel. Liberty Puzzles, a Boulder, Colorado-based wooden puzzle maker, saw a huge spike in orders but had to send its 70 employees home after the state issued a stay-at-home order and closed businesses. non-essential businesses. Now owners Chris Wirth and Jeff Eldridge are struggling to fill 750 puzzle orders themselves in an empty factory.

“Even though we can open with five people here…we could throw puzzles for anyone who wants them there,” Wirth said.

Liberty Puzzles will pay the full salaries of its 70 employees until at least May, Wirth said. Despite increased demand, the company still keeps its puzzles at the same prices, even though some of its used puzzles are resold on eBay for double their retail value, according to Wirth.

Ravensburger has kept its three US warehouses open — in New Hampshire, Washington state and Pennsylvania — operating under heightened safety precautions that include staggered shifts and social distancing between workers.

But there’s no way to keep up with the peak in demand, according to Francke.

“It’s really hard to get your hands on a puzzle right now,” he said.

The company primarily relies on mom and pop toy stores that offer curbside pickup or delivery options, or large retailers like Barnes & Noble and Target to sell puzzles. Amazon prioritized transportation and shipping of essentials, Francke said, so brick-and-mortar retailers proved a better option for Ravensburger.

Puzzle enthusiast Lisa Cohen, whose finished sets decorate the walls of her home in Rockville, Maryland, said she’s seen prices for puzzles skyrocket online.

“If you go to Amazon, they scam you,” she said. “The $16.99 puzzles are over there for $60.”

Cohen, a crisis hotline volunteer and former teacher, said she resorted to leaving extra puzzles on her porch for people to pick up and enjoy. Despite the demand, Cohen said people take one or two freebies at a time.

“They’re hard to get and they can be expensive for people, but it feels good to be able to get them out there for people to enjoy,” she said.

Cohen said she used to do puzzles on her own, but during the isolation the activity became a family affair.

“I have four kids and they were never involved,” Cohen said. “Now they do too.”

Ravensburger has seen a surge in sales of family and children’s puzzles amid the pandemic, Francke said, as more children learn from home. Difficult sets with a higher number of parts are also in demand. Ravensburger’s Krypt range, which offers advanced one-color puzzles in different shades, has seen a particular surge in popularity during the outbreak.

The company has also seen an increase in demand for puzzle sets with heartwarming themes such as a picture of mac and cheese or a cozy interior scene, as well as those depicting an exotic location.

“Now that people can’t travel anymore, that trend is even stronger,” Francke said.

The company expects interest in the puzzles to continue to grow as lockdowns drag on, and has already put high-volume delivery plans in place for the next two months.

“It’s really hard to say where the demand stops at this point,” Francke said. “We will just do our best and try to reach retailers that are still open to reach consumers.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Ravensburger sold 21 million puzzles worldwide in 2019. A previous version misrepresented sales.