Shrinkflation has been in the news this week. In case you’re not familiar with the frankly ugly term, it refers to products which have been down-sized to enable the supplier to maintain the price point – essentially a ‘less for the same price’ proposition. A report released this week suggests that over 2,500 products have shrunk in size over the past few years, the majority being food products. I suspect they arrived at this conclusion because it is far easier to compare food items than many other consumer goods categories: toys aren’t sold by weight, so it’s easier to hide any down-sizing. My guess is that more thorough research on other product categories would reveal the true figure to be far higher, and I also suspect that the next few years will see that number continue to grow.
Argos has contributed to the trend by trimming a few additional mm off the dimensions of its latest autumn winter catalogue. Inevitably, some of the images feel like you need a magnifying glass to see them properly (especially some of the dark product on a dark-coloured background or ‘styles may vary’ shots). But whatever the Argos management feels about the catalogue, many customers are hugely reluctant to let it go: just visit Argos’ twitter feed or Facebook page to see how many customers are complaining that their local store no longer offers catalogues. For many people, online is simply not a replacement for print.
Shrinkflation has even come to our own toy trade magazine sector: however, I can categorically promise you that Toy World won’t be going down that particular one-way street. Making something 25% smaller is effectively increasing the price by 25%, and people aren’t daft. Even Glamour magazine – the forerunner of the reduced-size magazine – has recently disowned the format: in magazine publishing, size really does matter, for both readers and advertisers. The only person who prefers the smaller format is the publisher’s accountant.
Over in the USA, Toys R Us has been up to its old tricks: eagle-eyed Star Wars fans have spotted product from the new The Last Jedi movie on sale a full month before the official embargo date, turning ‘Force Friday 2’ into ‘Farce Friday’ in an instant. Not that they have ‘previous’ in this area or anything! With the New York post publishing an article which quoted several analysts citing ‘Star Wars fatigue’, the big question is to what extent the new movie will reinvigorate the franchise. Suffice to say that expectations are rather different to where they were a couple of years ago, but maybe a dose of reality might not be such a bad thing all round.
In fairness, it’s not just Star Wars. Talking to several retailers this week, it seems that toy sales based on this year’s crop of July movie blockbusters have struggled to live up to the hype. Perhaps there were just too many big movies released in too short a time frame. In the past, four major movies would have been spread across a whole year; they arrived in a little over four weeks this time round. A combination of movie overkill and sequel fatigue seems to have diluted sales; while none of the properties have bombed by any stretch of the imagination, and some categories have been reasonably solid (Transformers core line and Cars diecast seem to have done ok), nothing has really hit the dizzy heights. Maybe the fact that 2018 isn’t a big year for movies will be a blessing in disguise: perhaps a year’s break from an over- abundance of blockbusters will help rebalance the market and rekindle enthusiasm for 2019’s releases.
NPD has the overall toy market down 1.5% in value for June, and down 1% in value year to date – the first time we’ve seen a decline in the first half of the year since 2013. You might think all this sounds a bit gloomy, but I think it’s worth putting the toy trade’s performance in context: compared to sectors such as clothing, I suspect we’re holding up pretty well, all things considered. The election in June and the renewed focus on the likely impact of Brexit (maybe the first time some consumers realised what it may mean in financial terms) must have had an effect on consumer confidence. And the pound’s challenges continue. All that to contend with and we’re only 1% down – I’d say that’s a result, especially with the key sales period still to come and some great new ranges about to hit the shelves. All to play for in my book.
Finally, spare a thought for this poor guy – perhaps the saddest victim of shrinkflation yet.