There’s a huge amount to get through this week, so let’s dive straight in. Last Friday was designated Triple Force Friday, when products from both Frozen II and Star Wars (The Rise of Skywalker, The Mandalorian and Fallen Order) were unveiled to the consumer – on the same day. Never before had any licensing company launched two major franchises simultaneously: would Disney realistically be able to create equal impact for both brands, even allowing for the fact they are aimed at completely different target groups? For those who dubbed last year’s corresponding event ‘Farce Friday’, there was probably mild trepidation with twice the scope for mis-steps this time round.
The results were certainly interesting. Heading into my local Disney store, it was abundantly clear where the emphasis had been placed: a wide array of Frozen merchandise was prominently positioned at the front of the store. By comparison, I had to hunt for the Star Wars range, which ultimately turned out to be a single bay tucked away towards the middle of the store. Frozen 1, Star Wars 0. I doubt this was an isolated case: other retailers have suggested that they found similar disparity in the breadth and depth of product during their store checks. The Watford Disney store is situated next to a branch of the Lego store, and interestingly, Star Wars was given far greater prominence by its neighbour, with an eye-catching window display, but also the product and strong promotional offers to back it up inside.
Talking about the product, there had been a few grumbles about availability for last year’s Force Friday, but they’ve had a year to sort out the wrinkles, so surely it was fine this time round. Ah, well….one indie (a huge Star Wars fan) had to apologise on his Facebook page that product wouldn’t be available until the Monday, while it was pointed out that “Three UK online fanboy retailers got stock of most of black series 6”, while Forbidden Planet – the only retailer to do a midnight launch – got one SKU.” Meanwhile, a quick midweek trip to my local Tesco superstore – which used to go to town with major licensed range launches – to assess the in-store presence of Frozen and Star Wars proved essentially fruitless, with neither licence represented. Presumably Tesco has decided to wait until nearer the film launches to beef up both brands in-store? I was also slightly surprised to see The Works displaying giant window banners proclaiming “60% off Frozen.” And it wasn’t the only retailer featuring discounts on Frozen product on the day it launched. I get that these aren’t ‘real’ discounts and that the product has been specifically bought in as a promotional tool, but even so, I am not sure I fully condone the message it sends out to consumers, especially on the day the merchandise is unveiled.
Elsewhere this week, the British Retail Consortium reported that UK retailers suffered their worst September in 24 years, with the threat of a No-Deal Brexit cited as the driving factor. This was backed up by a report from analyst Citi, which estimated that the UK has lost out almost entirely on the bout of global growth since 2016, with output around £60b lower than it would have been had voters chosen to stay in the EU. On a more day-to-day level, HMRC has revealed that the costs to UK and EU businesses of filling in customs forms under a No-Deal scenario would be in excess of £15b a year (every year, not just year one). Bear in mind, these are the government’s own figures and HMRC has admitted they are likely to be on the low side. Just what we all need right now, more red tape and forms to fill in (insert eye-role emoji here).
Over in the US, rumours have surfaced linking Just Play to a potential acquisition of Jakks: it is difficult to know whether there is anything tangible in this, but Bloomberg broke the story and it is generally a fairly reliable source of information. Another big US development announced this week was the tie-up between Toys R Us and Target to relaunch the TRU website. Essentially, Target will act as fulfilment provider for TRU, an echo of the role Amazon once performed for TRU. I wrote a piece a few days ago about the new arrangement, which you can read here. I had a few reservations about the arrangement, echoed by Forbes in its report on the deal: “Toys R Us is never going to be reborn, post-bankruptcy, as a retailer. The new TRU business model is more social influencer than retailer. It will use its well-known brand to steer consumers to purchases that will be benefit its retail partners, and get a small cut of each sale. Toys R Us’ new strategy is to be a retailer in name only.” Ouch.
We also reported this week that the immensely popular international agent Sydney Greenberg of SG Toys has passed away: judging by the comments on our social media posts, Syd was hugely well-liked and respected, and will be sadly missed.
Here in the UK, retailers continue to release their Christmas predictions, with Smyths the latest to issue its festive list – and may I just say, it was a master-class in how to unveil the choice of top toys for maximum impact. Toy World was given a two-hour exclusivity window ahead of the release being given to national media and other trade titles, resulting in it becoming our lead story that day and our most-read story of the week. With the numbers we can generate compared to our competitors these days, it is certainly a strategy others might like to consider. You can see the products which made the list here.
Finally, with Frozen fever building and so many genuinely great products to choose from, kids are going to be spoilt for choice in the coming months. On that basis, I am not convinced that this particular line from Build-a-Bear will be topping the sales charts; not so much ‘build a bear’ as ‘build a weird, anthropomorphic creature which happens to be wearing Anna or Elsa’s dress’- for almost £50! Form an orderly queue kids…