ONLINE RETAIL I How monitoring tech can be the key to happy customers

Toys can be the bedrock of a child’s life, particularly on special occasions such as birthdays, when they eagerly await delivery of the latest electronic game. Ensuring goods reach the end user in the same pristine condition that they left the factory is vitally important for any toy manufacturer’s reputation. Here, Derek Richardson, an environmental manager specialising in temperature and impact monitoring for Ellab Monitoring Solutions Ltd (formerly Hanwell), examines how best to avoid the hassle of returns, refunds – and broken promises.

Alarm bells are still ringing about worldwide supply chain delays, with toys and other goods stuck in containers on boats and at ports due to red tape or a shortage of haulage drivers. This begs the question how best to protect shipments during lengthy logjams, when they finally hit store shelves and online orders are being delivered to households?

Returns and recalls can cost the UK toy market – the largest in Europe – hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, not to mention the anguish for child and parent alike when a coveted computer game or plush soft toy is found to be broken or damaged when removed from its packaging.

For toy brands, extra costs are incurred by getting goods back from the disgruntled customer, packaging the replacement and shipping the items back to the purchaser – if by then they still want them. There are many reasons for the costly product returns journey and the condition of goods at the point of sale can be a key issue.

So how best to protect this year’s hottest electronic games – and other items like traditional building sets and cuddly toys – on their way to customers, especially in peak periods? Product packaging designed to cushion fragile goods during shipping against shocks and bumps in the road is an obvious must. But having early-warning systems in place to keep track of the condition of your goods at every point in the supply chain could also save the day.

Seeing red if toy is mishandled

Damage prevention while on the journey to the customer is key. Impact tools can make handlers think again about throwing a box containing a Barbie doll into the back of a van or dropping it on the doorstep. Take Shockwatch. This is a label attached to the item or packaging that turns red if goods have not been handled with care.

In addition to accurately recording shock and vibration, these effective, attention-grabbing devices act as a strong visual deterrent to unacceptable handling, no matter what you’re shipping, providing accountability from the first mile to the last. The shock sensors detect and record impact and mishandling of fragile, sensitive, or calibrated products during transportation.

Monitoring systems and associated devices mean that you’re buying into a distribution process that involves the shipper and the warehouse. You’re making a commitment to the end customer that you care whether a product arrives in the same perfect condition as it left the factory. Ultimately this could save companies the cost and reputational damage incurred if toys are damaged en route.

Toy storage solutions

Problems could also start in the storage environment. For example, water ingress can affect the humidity level in warehouses, which is difficult to detect without accurate monitoring systems. When timbers are wet and there is any kind of heat applied the moisture evaporates and affects the whole building – and then you get mould and mould spores, which are especially unhealthy conditions.

Extreme weather events like thunderstorms and heavy snowfalls can have detrimental effects on the external structure of warehouses and storage facilities. If any part of the building is left vulnerable this in turn could cause damp, potential leaks and flooding, not to mention disruption of power, causing damage to interior walls, ceilings and ultimately goods if left unchecked.

Warehouses that store electronic toys and video games should be temperature controlled. In fact, any high value item that runs the risk of being damaged by adverse conditions within a building should have specific safety protocols in place.

Early detection through environmental monitoring systems for temperature, humidity, power and lighting can help nip potential problems in the bud. There is a choice of accurate and flexible environmental management solutions that can protect companies and millions of pounds worth of devices, such as smartphones, kids’ laptops, electronic learning toys as well as cuddly friends, not just from monetary loss but also a tarnished reputation.

In fact, the latest monitoring systems can also gather data to give supervisors accurate information on what they might need to do to improve the environment within the supply chain. It’s also real time data, much more efficient than sending someone around with a hand-held thermometer three times a day using a pen and scraps of paper. The key thing is to react swiftly to potential problems which can be triggered by temperature fluctuations and increasing humidity levels caused by a leaking roof, broken pipes or human error.

The dangers of damp

Humidity can accelerate corrosion, which is an additional factor in damaging electronics — even if the electronic device is in an off-state. When moisture comes into contact with a metal, the metal begins to corrode, and the ions in the water speed up this process.

Undetected flooding or leaks will test not only a building’s integrity but also the goods housed in them. In the worst cases some areas get sodden and start growing bacterial fungi or black spots. So, monitoring equipment that warns of water ingress and rising humidity levels can prevent a lot of heartache and financial implications by protecting the warehouse structure and contents against resulting condensation and significant ongoing damp problems.

Water coming through roofs due to blocked gutters and downpipes can also soak into framework and walls causing potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage. Compare that to the tiny cost of putting leak detection sensors in place.

Solutions such as Ellab’s wireless monitoring technology uses sensors placed in the roof integrated with environmental monitoring software. It can warn designated stakeholders of leaks from defective roof drainage, blocked gutters or from a bad seal, missing tiles or some other reason. Alerts can be sent directly via SMS to mobile devices or desktop PCs.

Good toy care is child’s play

Environmental and temperature monitors detect and warn you instantly of spikes and dips in the conditions where high value goods are stored, while the software provides electronic data that can help you pinpoint troublesome areas. Deploying monitoring systems with access to up-to-the-minute data shows you are taking duty of care for the customer very seriously.

It’s not only the outside elements that can cause problems. As mentioned, human error, power cuts or equipment failures can also result in damage to fragile goods – the sooner you find out that you’ve got a problem the sooner it can be fixed saving thousands of pounds.

It’s all about nurturing customers and their expectations by offering the highest level of protection to anything that’s temperature sensitive or fragile. If warehouses have constant monitoring systems in place, then action can be swiftly taken to limit the potential damage of a leak or from mishandling – ultimately saving toys, time and money.

It’s not hard to envisage how sub-standard monitoring procedures could potentially lead to a crisis and heartbreak for a child if toys, especially high value electronic devices, are mishandled, or a rise or dramatic drop in temperature or change in other conditions affects the products. In such a competitive market there is absolutely no doubt that a failing could be extremely costly for toymakers.

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About Tessa Clayton

A former Chief Sub of Red magazine, Tessa Clayton is the Digital Editor of and ToyNews. As a freelance journalist she specialised in writing about parenting and family life, and has contributed to a wide variety of publications and websites including Tesco online, Mother & Baby, Livingetc, Junior, Boots Health & Beauty, Practical Parenting and Get in touch at

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