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Computer says no…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: March 31st, 2017

I received numerous calls and emails after last week’s Blog, including several from independent retailers who have chosen to embrace the philosophy; it’s good to be different. As one succinctly put it: “Why try to be like Argos, TRU or Smyths – they already do that very well themselves.” Quite. I also enjoyed their description of the majors’ seemingly perpetual discounting as ‘the DFS approach’. Numerous emails in my inbox this week from a variety of retailers – including, it has to be said, several toy specialists – reinforce the notion that some toy retailers now see discounting as less a guerrilla tactic and more a perpetual, year-round strategy.  Their choice, of course, but I do wonder whether this constant bombardment of promotional reductions ends up with jaded consumers who aren’t convinced the discounts are genuine.

I was also contacted by Peter Brown after mentioning his comments about preferential treatment for independents. He pointed out that he received a lot of flak for the observation at the time, not just from major retailers (predictably), but also from his own sales team. I completely see the challenge in giving better prices to smaller accounts, but there is more than one way to approach channel management.

Arguably the biggest threat to the independents continues to come from Amazon – numerous shop owners have described to me how consumers walk up to them, brandishing a phone and saying something along the lines of “I can get this much cheaper at Amazon” on a daily basis. It must get wearing. Almost as wearing as dealing with Amazon is apparently becoming for suppliers. The latest development – not in the UK as I understand, but in the US – is that Amazon is apparently refusing price increases because – wait for it – the system can’t accept rises as the feature has been disabled for the first half of the year. Literally, computer says no! Except, of course, that if the widget has been disabled, presumably the same person could simply re-enable it? Unless that person has gone on an enforced six- month sabbatical…

Some suppliers appear to have reached the end of their tether, and are suggesting to other retailers that if they commit to ordering a certain volume, they won’t supply the product to Amazon. I wonder if this tactic will become more widespread if the difficulties in dealing with Amazon persist?

It was great to catch up with a bunch of suppliers and licensors at the Toymaster brand presentation earlier this week. Not only was it interesting to hear Toymaster talk about the many options that it has at its disposal to promote brands and products to its customers, it was also good to understand how people are feeling about trade at the moment. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that a few people were grumbling about not hearing back from major buyers about selections. Now, I know just how frustrating it can be if people don’t ever return phone calls or emails. However, if suppliers think that this just applies to retailers, they might like to ask me whether their own marketing team is a paragon of virtue in this respect – I suspect a few might be mildly surprised at the answer. But, more importantly, a former buyer who is well known to me – being my wife – used to tell me that selections would probably have taken half the time if they didn’t have to answer all the calls asking when selections would be confirmed. I guess the simple answer is that everyone just wants to know where they stand, whatever business they’re in. Admittedly, there are far more communication tools at buyer’s disposal now than there were when my wife was a buyer (it was pre-email for starters), but I can see there are definitely two sides to this story.

I like to foster debate – it’s part of the privilege of being a trade observer / commentator. Mind you, there is sometimes a fine line between creating a talking point and absolute madness: I was recently reading a competitor’s magazine and came across an article by Euromonitor, which appeared to be suggesting that there should be an online re-seller of toys. I had to re-read it to make sure I hadn’t misinterpreted them, but no, they really were advocating a ‘professional’ facility to enable the public to buy and sell second-hand toys. In a trade magazine!! It even used the phrase “…parents reluctant to spend huge amounts of money on potentially short-lived licensed toys.” So that’s the toy and licensing businesses told then – thanks for your support Euromonitor! Suffice to say the Nuremberg Dolls were aghast when I showed them the piece…

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