This month, ToyNews’ Mystery Shopper puts five toy shops in this midlands city through their paces to see if this quiet town could offer up a top-shelf shopping experience on par with southern city High Streets.
Toys & Games
47 Broad St, Worcester
The first thing that struck me about Toys & Games of Worcester was just how lively it was for a dreary Friday afternoon. In the age of online shopping, it was heartening to see this relatively cosy store, bustling with paying customers. As I perused the shelves I took note of the variety of product on offer here, from chart-topping LEGO to Star Wars to obscure board games (I almost spilled my coffee when I found a board game based on DOOM).
Once an enthusiastic customer had moved on I inquired with a member of staff about what toys would be suitable for my non-existent eight year old nephew. The staff member smiled wide at the question and was more than happy to walk me through the shop and recommend the top selling LEGO sets as well as personally recommending a selection of Star Wars themed art sets, that would be perfect for any creatively inclined youngster.
Verdict: With an enticingly varied selection of high quality licensed/pop-culture products and friendly staff, Toys & Games was a great first stop on my shopping journey.
CrownGate Shopping Centre, Friary Walk, Worcester
A stone’s throw from Toys & Games was toys and gifts store Hawkin’s Bazaar. Again, I was greeted at the door by a smiling member of staff as a handful of curious kids milled around, taking in the range of curiously quirky gifts and games lining the appealingly colourful store.
A number of products caught my eye, including a range of RC cars and drones, colourful lamps, party-oriented games, science and acitivity sets alongside a small range of licensed memorabilia. The member of staff on hand was more than happy to help me out, buying my ‘clueless gift buyer’ act.
The attentive staff member seemed fresh to the job, but offered me sincere and helpful advice, talking me through the range of hi-tech toys and traditional games, she even went on to name some other shops that might be of interest to me – A for effort!
Verdict: With a unique and compelling range of products, as well as a robust online presence, this was a great shopping experience, boosted by the sincere and upbeat staff.
16 The Shambles, Worcester
Being one of the country’s largest toy shop chains I expected The Entertainer to be a rather different experience to the two stores I had just visited and upon my entry I was quickly proven right. The store was moderately busy for a weekday afternoon but considering the larger size of the store I was surprised to see less staff on hand. A lone cashier had her hands full serving customers at the tills and only one other member of staff could be spotted, hurriedly restocking shelves, perhaps suggesting the efficiency with which a national chain like this is run.
The products on display here were typically varied, offering all the usual suspects from PAW Patrol to Shopkins to superheroes and Pokémon.
The advice given was well-informed but considerably less detailed than I had received at Hawkins, as the staff member seemed eager to get back to his other tasks around the shop.
Verdict: The range here was varied and reasonably priced but the setting lacked the warm atmosphere of other shops in the area. An average shopping experience.
Wise Owl Toys
5 Charles St, Worcester
Now this one stands out. From the moment I stepped into Wise Owl I knew I was in for something special. The shop was quiet, which allowed me to take my time and take in what the shop had to offer. Unlike the other shops I had seen, this one focussed on STEM toys and games, with a lot of really exciting, imaginative products.
The staff member on duty, gladly left her post at the till to help me pick out a toy, asking me all the important questions, like the age of the child, his interests etc. I concocted a believable foil: the lad loves his dinosaurs. With this information in hand, the staff member walked around the store pointing out the most popular products and personal favourites identifying any that fit the criteria.
I was delighted to learn that the shop also hosts events during school holidays where families can come in and play their sizable range of games. It was lovely to see the enthusiasm and passion on show here and a great range of original products besides.
Verdict: Wise Owl was a breath of fresh air, with some unique products that really make you think. Most important of all was the knowledge and passion on display here.
Hide & Geek
10 Reindeer Court, Mealcheapen Street, Worcester
The last stop of my tour was a shop I was particularly excited to check out, given my affinity for all things geeky. However, it didn’t take me long to realise I was out of my depth in Hide & Geek.
An awkward feeling came over me as I entered and noticed that the only other people in the store were highly engrossed in a very complicated sounding card game, as if I was intruding on a club I hadn’t been invited to. Nevertheless I began my routine of exploring my surroundings and found the walls lined with Funko Pop! Figures, trading cards and action figures.
I tried to catch the attention of a member of staff but to no avail. Reluctantly I interrupted the game, and enquired as to if a member of staff could help me. A smiling gentleman arose from the table and proceeded to hear my inquiry. He offered some advice but I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was eager to return his game.
Verdict: To share interests over board games and comics, this is a brilliant place to spend your time but unfortunately for the average gift-buyer it’s an impenetrable scene.
Being a small city, Worcester has a great range of independent toy shops, each one catering to slightly different niche, in addition to the usual suspects like Argos, The Entertainer and supermarket chains.
There was a definite lean towards licensed products, with pop-culture and geek gear becoming ever more popular. Toys & Games did a good job bringing kids and adults together with a good mixture of adult –oriented memorabilia and board games with kids favourites like LEGO, Scalextric and Hornbys.
Hawkins Bazaar did an equally admirable job bringing different audiences together with a gifts varying from family-oriented games to RC vehicles and fun homeware items.
Wise Owl stands out from the crowd with its unique line-up focusing on STEM products and toys and games with an educational slant. This establishment gained extra points for the in-store events it holds periodically, giving kids and families much-needed activities during school holidays.
The Entertainer didn’t offer much in the way of surprises but the stock was predictably diverse and far-reaching. Staff were clearly knowledgeable happy to help but the demands of running the most popular toy shop on the high street meant that they weren’t able to lavish me with as much of their time as other shops in the area.
Finally, Hide & Geek provided yet another contrasting experience, with this shop being much more geared towards young adults already well engrossed in geek subculture. While the shop stocked a good range of pop-culture toys, it was a less than welcoming setting for a newcomer.