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A call to arms…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: June 21st, 2019

I’ll start this week by focusing on the BTHA’s latest campaign, which is aimed at encouraging MPs to change the law as it relates to online platforms and their wholly ineffective policing of third-party sellers. Regular readers will appreciate that this is a subject I have written about before, so I am delighted to see that the BTHA is making a stringent effort to address this loophole. It is a highly complex and detailed issue; you can read all about the BTHA’s campaign here, while the August edition of Toy World will include an in-depth look at the situation and what needs to be done.

My goal today is simple; it is to encourage the whole toy market to come together to fight this iniquity. It is important that everyone gets involved. Every time I write about this subject, people tell me to keep it up, often adding: “It’s great that you can say these things, because we can’t – we have to maintain a relationship with Amazon.” But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter how much turnover you do with online marketplaces, there is a bigger picture here – for the long-term future of the toy industry, we need to do all we can to stem the tide of unsafe and counterfeit toys on online third-party marketplaces. The fact the industry is losing a vast amount of turnover to these dubious operators just adds insult to (potential) injury.

I should stress two things; first, it’s not just Amazon – the BTHA study involved buying toys from Amazon, eBay and AliExpress (a subsidiary of the Alibaba Group). Second, the issue is not with branded toys sold via the main sites; these all passed with flying colours, as of course they should with any legitimate retail operation. The issue specifically lies with third-party sellers, and this is where the platforms are failing their customers. Currently, their only responsibility to police these companies is a moral one, and that is clearly not enough. The only way we are going to stop this happening is by the law being changed. As things stand, the platforms aren’t doing anything illegal; it could be argued that their behaviour is immoral, but obviously there is a big difference between legality and morality when it comes to accepting responsibility and doing something to stop it happening.

Make no mistake – the platforms are fully aware of the problem. But if you have any doubt that they are refusing to accept responsibility, watch this clip of a recent parliamentary hearing, in which Amazon’s director of compliance squirms under robust questioning from MP Mary Creagh (watch here from 10:24).

It is the most cringeworthy and funniest thing I have seen all week (and I watched both Conservative leadership debates). The low-point is reached when the man from Amazon claims that last year’s slime scandal “didn’t only affect Amazon, it affected the whole toy industry.” That statement is, of course, completely false – all of the slime kits which failed the tests were bought from third-party sellers on Amazon. And this is the key point; this was an Amazon third-party seller issue which became a UK toy industry issue. That is why it is important that everyone unites behind this campaign and actively gets involved. You can start by writing to your MP – come on, it’s summer, you have time to do it today. The BTHA can provide a template letter. It’s imperative that we get the message across to the people who are responsible for changing the law that there is a problem. Who knows, if they can acknowledge that, they might even decide to do something about it.

Elsewhere this week, Smiggle’s UK operation has been warned by its Australian parent company that that it could withdraw financial support from its UK subsidiary. Whether it is a case of its expectations being too high or just another example of a UK retailer being hit by prevailing economic headwinds, it may provide an opportunity for toy retailers to capitalise if Smiggle downsizes or disappears altogether. Meanwhile, over in the US, it has emerged that Party City will not be continuing with its Toy City initiative. Despite claiming that it would open 300-500 dedicated toy stores this year, it now appears that these plans have been cancelled, although it is believed that there will be an assortment of toys carried in all existing Party City stores instead. Taking in conjunction with KB Toys’ ongoing challenges in securing financial investment, this development suggests that replacing TRU is perhaps not as easy as it looks.

I was sad to hear that toy industry veteran Ian McMurtrie has died – although I didn’t know him well, those who did tell me that he was a thoroughly decent chap. He ran the Mattel UK operation back in the 80s, although he spent most of his career in the Australian toy market.

Back here in the UK, Anne-Marie Noon has joined the Alpha Animation marketing team, while Chris Ashton has left his role as category manager for toys, nursery, sports and pet care at Groupon. Having spent many years in toy retail buying with Groupon, The Toy Store, Toys R Us, Harrods, Safeway and Woolworths, Chris is very much hoping to stay within the toy community and use the experience and contacts he has built up over the past 25 years. He can be reached by email at chrisashton8@hotmail.com or by phone on (07868) 292570.

Visitor registration is now open for BLE – you can save time and avoid queues on the day by registering in advance here. And don’t forget, this year’s show takes place at a new venue – Excel – at a slightly different time in the calendar: 1st – 3rd October. On the subject of licensing, I’m really looking forward to the launch of Wizards Unite this weekend; for the uninitiated, it’s essentially the Harry Potter version of Pokémon Go. The trailer looks absolutely fantastic, and the game should drive enthusiasm for Harry Potter licensed merchandise to even greater heights in the coming weeks.

I’m off on holiday now, so if you could avoid anything major happening for a little while, that would be very much appreciated. Thank you.

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