A week ago, if someone had mentioned Omicron to me, I would have assumed it was a new Transformers villain. What a difference a week makes: we are now only too familiar with the latest Covid variant, as this week’s news has been dominated with stories about its spread across the globe.
Within hours, I started to receive messages from retailers asking what I thought might happen to footfall in stores. They didn’t have to wait long to find out: apparently stores have been exceptionally busy all week, with some shoppers apparently fearing history repeating itself with another lockdown at Christmas.
For what it’s worth, I don’t foresee that happening in the UK, although obviously it’s impossible to be 100% certain about anything pandemic-related. Hopefully, those retailers who stocked up in anticipation of strong December sales should be fine – although if they also have online sales capabilities as a back-up, that will help them sleep at night. On that note, Toymaster’s new website feature – linking directly to the websites of customers’ nearest Toymaster stores – has already boosted sales, so it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a strong multi-channel strategy.
That said, given the ongoing shortage of delivery drivers, a sudden spike in consumers moving from physical to digital purchases could possibly tip the whole situation over the edge anyway. With any luck, common sense will prevail: if people get their second jabs or boosters and wear masks, stores should not become off limits to the vast majority of shoppers. Fingers crossed, the same should be true for the early year trade shows in the UK; despite this week’s developments, I haven’t heard anyone expressing concern for the London Toy Fair.
I wish I could say the same about Nuremberg, but the rumours rumble on. The latest unofficial, unconfirmed reports suggest meetings next week will determine what happens…let’s hope the show organizer is soon able to re-confirm that the show will go ahead as planned. To be fair, every communication I have received from them thus far has reinforced that it’s full steam ahead, but it is obviously a bigger challenge for an international show than a predominantly domestic event.
It’s also full steam ahead for the Fence Club Christmas Ball this weekend: after a hiatus last year, this popular event returns on Saturday, and it will be great to see many friends and colleagues from the toy community at what is always a fun and glamorous night. Looking forward to a great evening and raising lots of money for the many deserving children’s charities which the Fence Club supports.
Our final issue of the year landed on desks this week – you can read the digital version of our December edition online now, including part one of our Nuremberg Toy Fair preview, all the latest news and industry moves, plus a smattering of amusing Santa hats to give it a festive vibe.
We’ve also seen several major retail developments announced this week, including the impending sale of Selfridges; the unveiling of a brand new US flagship store for Toys R Us in New Jersey’s American Dream Mall, which opens in mid-December and the return of the legendary Wicked Uncle tube advertising campaign. Mike O’Shea offered me a tenner if I could make it on a journey through the underground without spotting a poster, and his money was safe, as I didn’t get past Green Park before spotting several. Although the person who bet me a fiver back in the summer that we would all be travelling to Hong Kong in January wasn’t so lucky (unfortunately).
Finally, I mentioned last week that if there was any fallout from Black Friday, I would come back to the subject in this week’s Blog. At the time I wrote those words, I genuinely had no idea just how prescient they would be. Fallout there was, after Argos instigated an apparently last-minute Black Friday deal which saw 20% wiped off the price of pretty much all toys in its range. Yes, even the ones that had already been heavily discounted (some by as much as 50%) and, crucially, the ones out of stock – which was apparently quite a large portion of the range.
The indiscriminate nature of the reductions seems to have caught a lot of people off guard, even allegedly the Argos toy buying team. Ahead of Black Friday, most people had assumed that toy retailers would cherry pick their discounts and offer limited deals on a focused selection of lines., taking into consideration stock levels and the need avoid margin erosion at a time when cost increases have either been introduced or are impending.
However, there was a consensus that the public has come to expect Black Friday deals, and with UK toy sales figures proving to be lacklustre in October and inconsistent throughout November, some had begun to wonder whether consumers were holding back their festive spending in the hope that there would be attractive Black Friday deals on offer. It seems that either Argos lost its nerve and blinked first or was determined to take the opportunity to bolster its market share at the expense of profit margin. Either way, most toy suppliers we spoke to were both mystified and disappointed, while other retailers were almost certainly forced to look at their own pricing proposition and react accordingly. You have to feel sorry for some of the more experienced members of the Argos buying team: they must be wondering what on earth is going on sometimes.
Although I was quite pleased to get this reaction to the whole fiasco from Midco’s Dave Middleton: “All our ‘out of stock’ lines were 20% off this weekend too. Mind you, all the lines in-stock were full price and we had the best weekend of the year.” Who do you think is the better trader, Dave or Argos?