Life comes at you fast these days – I’m almost nervous to write the Blog too early on the Thursday, in case I have to rewrite it following yet another major development. There has been little time to pause for breath this week: the Australian Toy Fair became the latest event to reveal that it will be going virtual in 2021; the New York Toy Fair announced a potential date for the rescheduled show (1st- 4th May); Rubie’s emerged from Chapter 11 with new owners; Smyths became the latest toy retailer to unveil its predictions for top festive toys, while it has been confirmed that the next Jurassic World movie has been delayed from summer 2021 to summer 2022. So, if you harboured hopes that consumers will be flocking back to cinemas in the early stages of next year, it seems that movie studios don’t necessarily share your conviction. We had already seen the James Bond movie postponed yet again, this time from November to April 2021 – and who would bet against further postponement? Turns out James Bond’s licence to kill has been extended to British cinemas, as major chain Cineworld announced shortly afterwards that it would be temporarily closing all its UK cinemas from yesterday, with the loss of over 5,000 jobs. Odeon has also proposed weekend-only opening at just a quarter of its 120 UK sites. In fairness, you can’t really blame them, when they don’t have anything new to show. It would also be pretty awful if you were a major retailer which had selected two key movie-driven properties to support heavily on a cross-category level in 2021 and both movies ended up getting moved back to the following year – although maybe that is just one of the pitfalls of making early decisions in the current climate?
Whatever your personal view (is a trip to a socially distanced cinema or theatre any more dangerous than many of the things we are allowed to do?), it does seem that the situation surrounding mass gatherings of any description remains complicated. As ominous threats of further lockdown measures hover over England and Ireland, and more draconian restrictions are introduced in Wales and Scotland, it is very much a moving feast – and who knows when it will end.
And yet…. this is the good part – the toy business remains in rude health. I promise I am not wearing rose-tinted glasses: as regular readers will know, the prozac journalism approach of saying ‘everything is awesome’ when it’s anything but is certainly not my style.
However, speaking to NPD last week for a fascinating article that you’ll be able to read in the November issue of Toy World, it turns out that the numbers back up what I am hearing anecdotally…that the toy market continues to hold up remarkably well. In the UK, some weeks in September saw double digit growth: YTD, the UK market is up 6%. Come on, if someone had offered us that result when lockdown started in March, surely we’d have had their hand off for it?
It’s not just the UK either: the 13 countries which NPD track around the globe were collectively running at +11% to the end of August. However, it’s not quite as simple as saying that the global toy industry is up; the UK is outperforming the rest of Europe, while US gains are driving the international performance. For the detailed stats, you’ll have to wait to read the full article in November, but the headline takeway is that the toy market is doing ok – actually, better than ok.
The NPD data also affirms that consumers have started shopping early for Christmas. A psychologist would probably tell you that this reflects a desire to exert some degree of control when all around you, things are spiralling wildly out of control. This trend is also encouraging on a commercial level: historically, early shoppers tend to spend more than later shoppers, while retailers and consumers alike will want to avoid creating the kind of crowds we have become accustomed to seeing in the final weeks before Christmas.
I noticed a great story in the Irish press this week: huge queues had formed outside several branches of Smyths Toys, as rumours spread of an impending lockdown which would see all but essential stores forced to close. The first thing those shoppers thought about wasn’t toilet roll, pasta or three different types of flour: it was their kids, and the worry that they may not be able to get hold of the toys they want. This instinctive behaviour reinforces the age-old toy community adage that parents will do whatever they can to give their kids a happy Christmas. And after the year we’ve had, who could blame them?
So, while uncertainty rages around us, the toy industry is just getting on with doing what it does best – spreading a little joy and happiness. In strange, unpredictable times, it is nice to hang on to that very simple thought.
No doubt there are still many twists and turns ahead of us: Amazon Prime Day falling in October could be a game changer this year. In the same way that – in times long gone - the launch of the Argos catalogue used to be a pivotal moment for the toy market, Prime Day could very much ramp the season up several notches this year. Meanwhile, we’re all trying to get our heads around the lie of the land for 2021 – trade shows, international buying trips, previews, face to face meetings…. when will they be able to return? What will they look like when they do? How will they reflect the hybrid physical/digital model that many are suggesting is ‘the future’? This week’s Festival of Licensing has represented a big leap forward in terms of digital capability, although will it be better when virtual events can support and enhance rather than attempt to replace or replicate the benefits of physical shows and presentations?
We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we’ll certainly keep asking all the right questions of all the right people. As I said at the start of this week’s Blog, things are happening fast – so to make sure you don’t miss anything, sign up to receive our daily email newsletter and also – if you are likely to be working from home for any length of time – don’t forget to email firstname.lastname@example.org with your home address so that we can divert your print copy accordingly. With so much happening and things changing rapidly, I’m sure you don’t want to miss a thing – and as long as you’re reading Toy World, you won’t.