Exclusive: NPD on changing consumer habits during Covid-19 lockdown

Moneeba Baloch reveals the latest toy retail trends and how respondents to the NPD’s Consumer Panel are feeling about toy purchasing at the current time.

The coronavirus and resultant lockdown have had a huge impact on daily life in the UK over the last quarter, impacting health, the economy and shopping habits. It has also had a big impact on UK toy sales. Unlike our European neighbours (with the exception of Germany), the UK toy market is bucking the pandemic lockdown trend and the market has grown +3 % since January (YTD Wk18 in value) in contrast to the rest of Europe, where toy value sales as a whole are down -5% YTD Wk18. The growth in the UK is due to six supercategories which are revealed in the article, each having a high time investment and play value for the items within them.

In 2019, NPD’s Consumer Panel showed that, 38% of all toy sales were online. In the past few weeks, this proportion has inevitably been far higher, with the Specialist & Mixed channel evolving into mostly online sales, as the majority of brick and mortar stores in this channel are closed. Since lockdown, this channel has accounted for 75% of total toy sales and has grown by +11% YTD. In a recent study conducted by The NPD Group, results showed that 43% of UK consumers have either shopped for toys online more frequently, or at least the same, as pre-lockdown.

Read the full NPD article in the June issue of Toy World, here.

Exclusive: Toy World talks family matters with Wicked Uncle

Rachael Simpson-Jones spoke to Mike and Liam O’Shea at the online present specialist to find out how the company has adjusted to life under lockdown.

Mike and Liam O’Shea, Wicked Uncle co-founders.

Covid-19 has changed many things, from the way we shop to how we celebrate special occasions. One thing that remains the same, though, is the demand for toys, games and gifts. One retailer meeting the need is Wicked Uncle, the online present specialist.

“We’re trading at around two to two-and-a-half times the volume we’d ordinarily expect at this time of year,” says co-founder Mike O’Shea, talking to me from his home. “Easter isn’t usually a busy time for us; usually, grandparents buy an Easter egg and pop around to visit their family in person. But this Easter, because grandparents couldn’t go and visit their grandchildren, we saw a lot choosing to send them a little gift in the post, just to remind them that they are loved and in their thoughts. Far from dying down, this sales surge has continued. With toy stores and department stores shut, there has been a reduction in supply, but we can still get the items we have in stock to the recipient very quickly.”

In the warehouse, the company was quick to reorganise the space to protect its staff and ensure strict social distancing was observed. As Wicked Uncle deals primarily in toys, and is therefore at its busiest and most crowded during November and December, the timing of the pandemic has meant that staff levels are lower and space more readily available, making it easier to put safety measures in place. One of the challenges, however, has been balancing the number of staff needed to cope with the level of sales with keeping the body count low enough that everyone has the optimum amount of workspace. Two employees made the decision to step back, due to underlying health conditions, which the company has fully supported, and to plug the gap Wicked Uncle has brought back some dependable, hard-working staff that usually cover the Christmas period, that the rest of the team could rely on to stick to social distancing.

To read the rest of this article, which was published in the June issue of Toy World, click here.

Intu polls shoppers ahead of reopening

Survey conducted by Intu reveals many shoppers want coronavirus safety measures in place before they’ll return to stores.

Intu, the owner of shopping centres including the Lakeside Centre and the Trafford Centre, has revealed lost earnings estimates of around £180m in rent as it published the results of a consumer retail survey, ‘The New Normal: Retail during and post Covid-19’.

As of 15th June, all non-essential stores will be allowed to reopen with safety measures in place to protect staff and shoppers. A survey conducted by Intu, which polled 2,000 regular users of shopping centres, indicates that the use of CCTV to monitor crowds, as well as temperature scanners on entering and leaving stores, would be welcomed by the majority of shoppers.

The report also revealed that 81% of those polled plan on visiting shopping centres the same number of times, or more frequently, than they did before the lockdown started on 23rd March, but 28% of shoppers noted that they would spend less, due to financial concerns brought about by the crisis. In addition, 70% of shoppers called on councils and local authorities to do more to support independent and local retailers.

The report concluded: “The over-arching message is clear: people want to get back to normal, which is promising, but they need clear reassurance from retailers and leisure providers along the way. We need to ensure consumers feel safe and supported as restrictions lift. An open dialogue, allowing us to listen to what people want and need as the situation progresses, will be key. If we work together closely as a sector, we feel confident we can navigate the challenges the pandemic presents.”

New research confirms benefits of play during lockdown

A poll commissioned by Little Tikes confirms that play has been a significant part of daily life for locked-down families.

Researchers working on behalf of Little Tikes polled British mums and dads to show the importance of play during lockdown, with over half (57%) stating they’ve appreciated having the chance to play with their children. Some 39% said they feel like they’ve got to know their kids better during their time at home and over 90% said they believe the old saying ‘The family that plays together stays together’ is true.

The survey results, which generated a spread of national coverage over the weekend, follow Little Tikes launching the digital campaign, A Little Help from Little Tikes, which provides families with free play inspiration from the comfort of their own home.

The study polled 1,000 parents of children aged 11 and under, and also found that families are making an average of seven Zoom calls to grandparents each week, and are playing and even dancing together in an average of six Tik Tok videos per week.

Michelle Lilley, head of marketing UK at Little Tikes, said: “We were keen to get a sense of the nation and how parents feel and their experience of lockdown. We appreciate it’s a huge challenge for families across the UK. It’s encouraging to see that plenty of parents are feeling closer as a family and that they’re learning more about each other than ever before.”

She added: “We’ve been championing play for over 50 years, and now more than ever, we’re seeing the benefit of families playing together. We’re hopeful the warm weather continues and that families have the chance to make even more play memories throughout the summer months. It’s still a challenging time for many, but with more retailers preparing to open we’re hopeful for an even busier and fun summer ahead”.

Little Tikes sales have surged throughout March, April and May, with outdoor toys including the Cozy Coupe, Fountain Factory and First Slide continuing to be in the top selling outdoor lines. Visits to the Little Tikes website have also increased, with parents accessing the free online resources that are available as part of the #ALittleHelpFromLittleTikes campaign. Audience growth across social channels has seen an uplift as parents engage with the campaign and competitions that have launched.

Little Tikes is increasing activity across digital and TV, with key outdoor products featuring on TV again from 15th June for four weeks to bolster water and core outdoor lines.

Alien TV to launch from eOne and Pop Family

The series will launch with 26 x 30 minute episodes targeted at kids aged 6-11 years and their families.

The new family television series, Alien TV, is set to premiere globally on Netflix later this summer and on Australia’s free to air Nine Network in June.

The series was co-produced by Entertainment One and Pop Family Entertainment, in collaboration with Netflix for global release. The Nine Network commissioned the series in Australia, produced with financial support of Create NSW. Alien TV will launch with 26 x 30 minute episodes targeted at kids aged 6-11 years and their families. The series follows the slapstick misadventures of an extra-terrestrial television news crew as they try to understand life on a newly discovered planet called Earth.

It combines real world imagery with high-end CGI animation. The Alien TV news crew lands on Earth to unravel the mysteries of this strange new world and report back to their alien audience. Their attempts at understanding human behaviour descend into chaos as they misinterpret everything they see – with unexpected and hilarious consequences.

“Alien TV is a great example of what international co-productions are all about,” said Pop Family Entertainment CEO and Alien TV Producer Carmel Travers. “I am thrilled that through Netflix and Nine, this irreverent comedy will be beamed worldwide giving audiences everywhere a funny look at the world – as aliens might see us.”

eOne’s Olivier Dumont, president, Family Brands, added: “Our new show, Alien TV, takes recognisable situations and transforms them into side-splittingly hilarious visual gags that have an instant and universal appeal for both kids and parents. Alien TV demonstrates our ongoing commitment to bringing audiences high-quality, original kids programming on the very best platforms and we really believe it has the potential to be a big hit when it debuts this summer.

Exclusive: The Entertainer’s Gary Grant on the light at the end of the tunnel

Gary and his team have been forced to rethink the company’s entire business model, as John Baulch explains. 

Gary Grant

I was originally due to interview Gary Grant, on 18th March, ahead of the grand opening of the newly refurbished Birmingham Bull Ring store on 1st April. The original plan was for Gary to outline the new features of the store, which was to include the first ELC ‘store within a store’ concept, for an article which was scheduled to appear in the April issue of Toy World. In the light of the rapidly escalating pandemic situation, plans changed; by the time Gary called that evening, he suggested that now wasn’t the right time to be running an article extolling the virtues of a new store layout, and I agreed with him completely. So we just chatted for 45 minutes – all completely off the record – about the impending crisis: what we thought might happen, how it would affect not only our respective businesses, but the whole of the UK, and how we might navigate the choppy waters which lay ahead.

By the time I caught up with Gary to conduct this official on the record interview six weeks later, the whole world had changed. Much of what we had discussed during that initial conversation had come to pass: as we both thought, non-food stores had been instructed to close by the government, leaving retailers faced with a prolonged period of closure. For a retailer like The Entertainer, it was a daunting prospect, as Gary explained: “I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster. It’s a frightening position to be in for a retailer, facing an undefined period of closure. The Entertainer is a bricks and mortar retailer which sells online: the internet supports our shops and vice versa – each channel generates sales for the other. But as a retailer which generates most of its turnover in-store and relies on delivering an experience to customers, when you close that side of the business, you’re looking at a very deep hole with no light at the end of the tunnel.”

This is an excerpt from an in-depth article published in the June issue of Toy World. To read the full, comprehensive piece in its entirety, which includes details of The Entertainer’s new Readyin10 initiative, click here.

Exclusive: keep smiling through – indie retailers consider guidelines for reopening

Lisa Currie caught up with a selection of independent retailers to hear about how they plan to re-open their retail premises safely as restrictions are lifted. 

Since 23rd March, non-essential shops have been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the closure of these shops still in place, independent toy retailers reveal their experiences during the UK lockdown and the challenges they have been facing.

Dave Tree from All the Cool Stuff in Fordingbridge told Toy World: “The last few months have been a challenge, as it has been for everyone. After Christmas, January and February are always very slow – as an independent shop in a small town we are used to the quiet periods and scaling back. So that side of things isn’t as much of shock to the system as it might be for others. However, just as we were hoping to emerge from that hibernation stage and start picking up again, the pandemic came along. It was a setback to miss out on Easter this year, which is our third biggest retail period. We’ve adapted to offer local delivery. This was well received to begin with, though people’s discretionary spending has got noticeably less and less the longer we have been on lockdown.”

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel with shops being able to open from 15th June and guidelines issued to retailers. Bright Star Toys, situated in Linlithgow, is in the midst of implementing a safe strategy for when they can open their doors again. Owner Ian Meliville explained, “The imposed guidelines are all generally in line with our thinking. Although small, our shop layout should allow us to manage the social distancing aspects of the guidelines without too much disruption. Initially we think a fair percentage of customers will still be wary of leaving their homes too often or might avoid browsing in shops, so we intend to set out slightly reduced opening hours that will allow us to continue to offer free home delivery to those who want it. With the new website, we can now also offer a click and collect option as an alternative to coming in the shop.”

Ian added: “One thing that has become clear over the last several weeks is that as a business we need to adapt, embrace change and be ready for anything the future throws at us.”

As shops make the necessary preparations, Pauline Connelly of Connelly’s Toyshop, Barnard Castle, has continued to keep spirits up. “I have been running competitions with prizes to be won and have been drawing a hopscotch outside the shop every morning, which has been a hit with both adults and children passing by. It’s fantastic how many people get joy from this, as well as from our toy deliveries. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a child smile – it raises spirits and its why I do things like this. Toys and games are essential, especially during a time like this.”

Read the full Talking Shop feature in the June issue of Toy World here.

Obituary: Michael Seres

Experienced toy and licensing industry professional Michael passed away at the weekend.

Michael first worked in the toy and licensing community during the noughties. He started his licensing career at Copyright Promotions, where he managed the sports licensing division. He then moved to Celador, where he was responsible for the licensing and marketing of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ during its phenomenal rise. He went on to consult for several licensing companies including Fremantle, where he helped to set up licensing programmes for X Factor and The Apprentice, before establishing his own toy company, Danjam, which focused on the licensed wooden toys category.

Michael had long-term health issues which did not hold him back during the time he spent in the toy and licensing community, but led to a career change over the past decade, when he established a connected medical smart care company, 11Health. He also developed a unique coaching programmes which used patients as health coaches. In 2015 he was appointed as the inaugural Stanford Medicine X Entrepreneur in Residence – Medicine X being a hub for new ideas and technologies about the future of medicine and health care. He was also an accomplished motivational speaker and wrote many articles for medical magazines.

David Wootliff, who worked with Michael during his extensive toy career, told Toy World: “Michael was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, so inspiring and positive… just a really lovely guy, very supportive.”

Our thoughts are with Michael’s family at this sad time.

Last call for the special 2020 Reboot issue of Toy World

The July issue will offer suppliers the opportunity to tell retailers about key launches for the crucial post-lockdown period.

Companies wanting to get involved with the special 2020 Reboot issue of Toy World are urged to get in touch ASAP, as the issue is filling up and planning is moving quickly.

This important July issue will help you let retailers know what your key new introductions are going to be for the second half of the year, when they will be available and how you will be letting consumers know all about these hot new lines. Think of this July issue as a mini Toy Fair edition – it will herald a fresh start for the UK toy community, helping retailers to make the right selections to ensure they have the best possible second half of the year.

Advertising opportunities and editorial coverage in this section won’t be limited to specific product categories – the planned features for July will still go ahead, but there will be a standalone reboot section which literally anyone can be part of, highlighting new products which will hitting the market in the coming weeks and months.

The 2020 Reboot issue will be published on 1st July, with an editorial deadline of 5th June and an ad deadline of 15th June.

If you would like further details of advertising and editorial opportunities, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Toy World team to find out more. For advertising enquiries, contact Mark Austin on 07710 532952 or email mark@toyworldmag.co.uk. For editorial enquiries, please contact rachael@toyworldmag.co.uk or lisa@toyworldmag.co.uk.

Women in Toys introduces free online networking session

The Tea and Biscuits session launches this Friday in conjunction with ToyAid.

The UK chapter of Women in Toys will host a virtual Tea and Biscuits meeting this Friday morning to enable members and non-members to come together to network, socialise and chat with others in the industry.

Although the lockdown in the UK has begun to ease this week, many are still working from home or remotely. Recognising that this can be a lonely environment for those used to working in busy offices, Women in Toys decided to bring the industry together for a virtual meet-up from 11am – 12pm via Zoom.

Everybody is welcome and the subject of chat will range from business to home schooling to missing the pub on a Friday night. Attendees will also learn about ToyAid, the new charity which supports families and children of front-line workers.

The free event is open to WiT members and non-members, so readers can invite their colleagues and industry friends.

Trudi Bishop, co-chair of the UK Chapter of Women in Toys, commented: “It’s been far too long since we all had a good old industry catch-up, so we have created a virtual space where everyone can check-in and feel part of our fabulous industry again until such a time when we can all get together again.”

Click here to register and the login details will be sent to you.