Don’t believe the hype… it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 4th December 2015

After all the relentless cacophony in advance, Black Friday seemed to pass more with a whimper than a bang, at least as far as the toy trade was concerned.

Last week I speculated that consumers had been holding back their spending in anticipation of incredible deals that I feared might not live up to expectation, and reports released in the aftermath of the event suggest I may not have been too far from the truth.

Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some decent deals to be had in the toy arena, but from what I could see, nothing that particularly eclipsed the multitude of deals that have already been on offer for the past month or so. And while internet traders seemed to be the main beneficiaries of any upturn in sales, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that consumer fatigue for the whole event appears to have set in already. Mind you, having seen yet more footage of appalling behaviour over in the USA this year, I think it is to the eternal credit of British consumers that this hasn’t been replicated in the UK on this occasion. Whatever happens to the concept moving forward, I do hope we don’t see a return to the almost primal behaviour that was witnessed in some stores last year – that was most un-British.

It was, however, entirely predictable that increased online sales on Black Friday led to delivery problems for a number of major retailers this week. Argos publically apologised after consumers took to its Facebook site to bemoan late deliveries, bad customer service and undelivered items, while Early Learning Centre tweeted that customers should expect deliveries to take between 10-14 days in the wake of Black Friday. It seems that despite having a year to prepare for the challenges provided by Black Friday, delivery companies are still struggling to cope with the massive spike in demand. I doubt this will come as a surprise to anyone in the retail or logistics field, but consumers still seem to be struggling to comprehend the scale of the challenge, or indeed the likelihood of orders being placed that day arriving when they expect them to. Reading some of the posts from consumers on the Argos website, sanguine they were not – and Argos can’t even blame third party delivery services, having boosted their own fleet of delivery vehicles only months ago.

Congratulations to Character Options on announcing record profits in its annual report this week. Having seen next year’s range at a recent preview, the company looks set for another strong year in 2016. With Hornby also announcing double digit growth in October and closing in on making the NPD Top 20, it’s nice to see a few home-grown toy companies enjoying success – long may it continue.

Over in the States, it has been confirmed that the Times Square branch of Toys R Us will close its doors on 30th December. There is still no news about a potential new venue for its Manhattan flagship store, nor on where the giant animatronic T. Rex that greeted visitors to the store will end up next. My money’s on Martin Grossman making them an offer….

Finally, Star Wars buffs are no doubt getting breathless with excitement over the imminent release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The December issue of Toy World – which will be landing on desks shortly – contains a marvelous article by two of the industry’s biggest self-confessed ‘Star Wars nuts’, Dave Middleton and Graham Hancock, which looks at the phenomenon and explores the gargantuan merchandising programme that goes along with it. It’s a passionate, honest and compelling piece, and it makes some interesting points, both from the perspective of individuals who love the brand and also from ones who are hoping for it to be a major money-spinner for them. If I was trying to give you a flavour of what to expect from the piece, the following tweet might be a good place to start: