Just try finding a jigsaw puzzle

Coronavirus Means Everyone Wants Jigsaw Puzzles. Good Luck Buying One.

Demand has taken off, but the world’s largest maker finds itself with fewer ways to get puzzles to puzzlers

ByMichael M. PhillipsMarch 29, 2020 1:43 pm ET

As if things weren’t bad enough, now there’s a shortage of jigsaw puzzles just when we need them most.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of Americans to hunker down in their homes and find ways to entertain themselves. A lot of them are thinking the same thought: jigsaw puzzle.

Of the top 10 items that shoppers searched for on Amazon.com last Tuesday, nine were antivirus cleaning supplies or personal-hygiene products (read: toilet paper). No. 7 was “puzzles for adults.”

More people were hunting desperately for jigsaw puzzles that day than Clorox wipes.

That should be good news for Filip Francke, chief executive of Ravensburger North America. Its parent, privately held German puzzle giant Ravensburger AG, is the world’s largest purveyor of jigsaw puzzles and does $600 million in business a year in puzzles, toys and other products.

Jigsaws were on an upswing even before the coronavirus. Still, they usually reside in the afterthought zone on Amazon, ranked between 2,000 and 3,000 among search terms, according to a source familiar with the data. Even as recently as March 3, adult puzzles were just the 1,435th most-searched item, the source said.

Ravensburger’s ‘Bizarre Bookstore 2’ puzzle.PHOTO: RAVENSBURGER AG

Now, as people run through their Netflix backlog and seek an activity to share with the few people they dare get within 6 feet of, jigsaw-puzzle demand has taken off.

Ravensburger’s sales in North America over the past two weeks are up 370% year-over-year, the company says. On a single day, March 26, sales were 10 times what they were a year earlier. Ravensburger is seeing Christmas numbers at Easter.

Yet 137-year-old Ravensburger finds itself with fewer ways to get puzzles to puzzlers. “The demand is pretty infinite right now,” says Mr. Francke. “The challenge is to find ways to get it to consumers.”

The world’s biggest store, Amazon.com, has stopped accepting puzzle shipments in favor of household staples and medical supplies. Amazon says it plans to expand its stock as capacity permits, given “extensive health and safety measures” the company has adopted. But the company won’t say when it will start accepting jigsaw puzzles again.

Target Corp. and Barnes & Noble Inc. still accept deliveries, Ravensburger says.

Barnes & Noble has closed 450 out of 620 stores nationwide, but Chief Executive James Daunt says online jigsaw shoppers are making up the difference. B&N salespeople will also deliver puzzles to people waiting in their cars outside of the stores.

“Demand has far exceeded supply,” Mr. Daunt said Sunday. “We’re pretty much selling it as we get it in.”

A puzzler at work in Odessa, Texas, on March 24.PHOTO: BEN POWELL/ODESSA AMERICAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Customers with time on their hands are looking for fatter books and more-complicated puzzles, Mr. Daunt says. “This helps them spend time more productively and hopefully with more entertainment than Netflix and Apple TV can provide,” he says.

Many small toy stores around the country have shut their doors due to health concerns or government edicts.

Sullivan’s Toys & Art Supplies, in Washington, D.C., doesn’t allow customers inside, but will hand off puzzles curbside. About 30 times a day, a masked-and-gloved Sullivan’s agent goes on a delivery run around the neighborhood to drop off toys at customers’ doors. Half of those deliveries include jigsaw puzzles, when they’re available.

Art manager Anya Navidi-Kasmai holds the sole remaining Ravensburger adult puzzle at Sullivan’s Toys & Art Supplies in Washington, D.C.PHOTO: NATALIA ALCAZAR

“It’s the classic,” says Natalia Alcazar, the store’s general manager. “You can’t really beat a puzzle on any sort of day.”

This weekend, though, Sullivan’s stock ran down to its last adult puzzle, an intimidating, 631-piece monochrome, gold rectangle from Ravensburger’s Krypt series. The store sold out of the all-silver and all-black versions earlier in the week.

“We’ve been waiting on an order,” says Ms Alcazar. “Right now we have no 1,000-piece, no 2,000-piece, no 5,000-piece. That’s what we need right now.”

Every other phone call to the store is an inquiry about puzzles, and the callers want one that’s going to take a while to put together. “They need something to keep the whole family occupied,” Ms. Alcazar says. The only ones left on the shelves, though, are way-too-easy children’s puzzles.

Ravensburger has suspended sales from its own website in order to redirect its remaining puzzle supply to Target, B&N and mom-and-pop toy stores. Ravensburger says its factories in Europe are running at full capacity, and it’s hoping more stock will arrive in the U.S. next month to replenish its own website and Amazon, once it reopens its warehouses to puzzle deliveries.

Secondary puzzle dealers have rushed to fill the hole in the supply chain.

The 1,000-piece “Catch a Wave” puzzle—featuring a seascape with a surfer, sea turtle and dolphins—lists for $20.99 on the Ravensburger website. A pop-up note delivers the bad news: “Due to unexpected demand, we are unable to fulfill orders at this time.” A Pennsylvania puzzle reseller, though, is offering “Catch a Wave” for $48.99 and $12.25 in shipping elsewhere online.

Passing the time at home in Johannesburg, South Africa, March 23.PHOTO: KIM LUDBROOK/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

“Dad’s Shed,” a nostalgic look at dad sheds in 500 large-format pieces, lists for $18.49. A reseller is offering one for $54.95 (free shipping).

“Dragon Kingdom,” which features half-a-dozen dragons and two castles, is on the secondary puzzle market for $46.99, plus $12.25 in shipping, a steep markup from the $20.99 (plus shipping) list price.

“It’s really hard to find a puzzle in the market,” says Mr. Francke.

The company, he suggests dryly, might have to stretch its output capacity by leaving one piece out of each puzzle.

Write to Michael M. Phillips at michael.phillips@wsj.com

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