OPINION: Out of the frying pan – Are we oven-ready or heading for the fire?

Covid-19 vaccines are beginning to be rolled-out, shops have re-opened, and Christmas shoppers continue to spend their money on toys. It really does look like there’s a light at the end of this long, winding tunnel. But, asks Kids Brand Insight’s Steve Reece, with chaos at the ports and Brexit not quite as oven-ready as we were told, what will we all be walking into next?

Despite the challenges 2020 threw at us, the UK toy trade has dealt with it well overall, albeit with stressful times along the way.

The reopening of toy specialist stores in time for a hectic December gave core specialist retail partners a chance to recoup something from 2020. Meanwhile generalist retailers and e-commerce retailers made massive strides. The pandemic has undoubtedly advanced online shopping habits in the UK where new technology is quickly adopted versus some other European markets.

While we won’t be meeting at Olympia for Toy Fair in January like usual, we can at least see light at the end of the tunnel now with COVID-19 vaccines rolling out. By the time we get to Easter there is a very good chance lockdowns and tiered restrictions will be just a bitter memory. 

Aside from COVID-19 though there are additional challenges the UK toy trade faces in 2021. Chaos at our ports, for instance, the disruption and backlog has caused chaos as well as increased freight costs. It is quite likely that stock for spring-summer will arrive late and with a heavy delivery premium as container freight rates have soared. It’s hard to say how long it will take for UK ports to return to normal. Moreover, with container availability issues ongoing, disruption is likely to continue for a few months alas.

The other major looming challenge is the B word – yes, Brexit is yet again representing a major challenge. At the time of writing we are yet to meet the end of year transition deadline. Here’s hoping that common sense and mutual interests will prevail, because if the ports are a mess now, they could be in a dreadful state if under trained, under resourced customs officials and logistics companies try to clear the current backlog with tariffs and additional red tape on top.

All doom and gloom aside, despite all the challenges we have faced, and are facing, the reality is that we work in a business with consistent robust demand, seemingly regardless of circumstances and economic climate. With cinemas likely to reopen for much of 2021, with a raft of blockbuster movies backed up and ready to come to screens and with a much stronger plan B on offer via direct to consumer content channels, the future may be turbulent but it also looks bright for the toy business overall.

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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