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Bargain hunters, inappropriate cash-ins and the impending disappearance of the little pencil…it’s the Friday blog!

Published on: 25th October 2013

Sainsbury’s annual half-price toy sale started this week. Time was when this was a landmark event for the more committed bargain hunter, who would wait outside the store at 7am for it to open, before making a mad dash for the toy aisle to pile their trolley high, often having stationed an accomplice blocking the end of the aisle with a trolley to reduce competition (and you think I’m exaggerating….). However, times have changed, and a quick scan of consumer forums revealed a generally more muted reaction to this year’s sale. A combination of the change in Sainsbury’s approach – to a slightly more measured sale pricing strategy – and other retailers adopting keen pricing strategies of their own left some consumers feeling slightly underwhelmed. “It’s cheaper at Smyths” was a comment I saw frequently posted on one consumer website. However, despite the cynicism, the fact is there were still some cracking bargains to be had if you did your homework and the fixtures looked quite well stocked to me (no danger of running out on the first day as has happened in the past).

This next item is rapidly turning into a weekly instalment, but there have been yet more changes to the Tesco toy buying team: the latest buyer to move on is James Kelsey, who leaves shortly for Dubai, where he will be working for Gulf Greetings, the leading specialist toy retailer in the Middle East and coincidentally the subject of November’s retail interview in Toy World.

I’m curious to know what retailers make of the Lego pricing strategy for 2014, which I gather has been communicated to customers recently. Will it succeed in providing a boost for genuine bricks and mortar retailers? You know where to find me if you have any thoughts you’d like to share.

Over in the States, reports have been circulating that joint-owner Vornado wants to exit Toys R Us. Its stake is said to be worth around $418m, roughly what it paid in 2005 when it bought its share of the business along with co-owners KKR and Bain Capital.

Argos is trialling a new concept store which replaces the laminate catalogues, paper and pencils which customers have used for decades to place orders, with tablet technology. The eventual plan is apparently to scrap the catalogue from stores altogether, as well as massively cutting circulation of the paper version used by consumers. I wonder how they will approach the subject of catalogue contributions when there are considerably fewer catalogues being printed. Not to mention the fact that people will have to go all the way to IKEA to nick little pencils now.

Now that England has qualified for next year’s World Cup, many companies will be breathing a massive sigh of relief, not to mention giving the green light to all manner of football-related product tie-ins. I have one small suggestion I’d like to share: if you have a range or brand which under normal circumstances has absolutely no connection whatsoever with football, it might be an idea to think carefully about your next move. Over the years I have seen all manner of tenuous associations with forthcoming major football tournaments by brands with no discernible link to the sport. It rarely – if ever – ends well. I saw one announcement from a licensing company this week which made me wince, and then I realised this would almost certainly be the tip of the iceberg. I grew up as a massive football fan, but had – for example – my childhood favourites the Thunderbirds characters have tried to cash-in on the ’66 World Cup, I would have been horrified. Even at the age of four, I could have seen that this would just have been plain wrong. Prizes for spotting the most incongruous cash-ins at forthcoming previews….

After my comment in last week’s blog about the term ‘co-exclusive rights’, a licensee got in touch to say that his favourite phrase at BLE was ‘over-arching retail road map,’ which gets extra points due to the fact that the person using it apparently managed to deliver the phrase with a completely straight face. Maybe we should start up our own version of ‘Pseuds Corner’ in Toy World?

Finally, it has been reported that Transformers 4 director Michael Bay was assaulted during filming in Hong Kong recently. His assailants – rumoured to be local businessmen seeking compensation for disruption to their trade caused by camera crews – allegedly attacked him with a mobile air-conditioning unit, but it was the police, rather than Optimus Prime and his cohorts, who came to Bay’s rescue. Somehow I can see it turning up as a plot-line in Transformers 5….

You can follow John on Twitter @Baulchtweet.