OPINION: All trick, no treat – but lockdown is one ghoul that the toy retailers will defeat

Saturday’s announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson couldn’t have been better timed; like a ghoulish trick played on the nation’s retailer scene, it tossed the proverbial egg at the window of the UK’s population of independent traders in true Halloween style. But, says Steve Reece – if the year 2020 is to show us anything, it’s that the toy business really is both recession and Covid proof

This must be easily the trickiest and most challenging Q4 in living memory for the UK toy trade. While the industry has managed sensationally well throughout the rest of the year, and consumer demand for many toys and games has remained robust, disruption heading into the critical peak selling season is a horrendous prospect for many toy businesses.

Retail is often a bloodbath anyway at this time of year, but with added difficulties in terms of social distancing, limited shopper numbers and lockdowns in most parts of the UK, this is set to be a very difficult period.

“The good news, despite all this carnage, is that in the toughest year for most of society since World War 2 ended back in 1945, 2020 looks set to confirm that the toy business really is both recession and pandemic resistant.”

At this stage inventory is sitting in warehouses, toy businesses are fully committed and as such now need to find ways to supply enough toys to satisfy children across the country, despite the fact that much of the marketplace is heavily disrupted and not guaranteed to be open for business.

The English lockdown throughout November (and beyond perhaps) is already set to deliver another massive boost to Amazon above all others. It should also offer a boost to Argos who has skilfully ramped up its online offering and capability significantly in the last decade. It should also benefit since hundreds of Argos outlets are now situated in Sainsburys sites across the country, which as essential food retailers will remain open and unrestricted (in England at least). Asda and Tesco will also inevitably see increased footfall and increased sales of toys and other items as a result.

If online and grocery are set to be major beneficiaries of the lockdown in England, then alas toy specialist retailers could be the ones to lose out. Having said that, the internet is still very much open for business, and any toy specialist store which hasn’t already been selling online really needs to find an offering in that space. Hopefully English retail will be fully re-open for December, which could usher in a last-minute flood of both footfall and sales.

The good news, despite all this carnage, is that in the toughest year for most of society since World War 2 ended back in 1945, 2020 looks set to confirm that the toy business really is both recession and pandemic resistant.

The challenge will be managing the logistical chaos of the next few weeks to maximise the opportunities, and above all to do what our industry does best – ensure that the nation’s children are smiling on Christmas day.

Steve Reece is the founder of the toy expert consultancy, Kids Brand Insight, leaders in supplying services to the toys and kids entertainment industries.

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