It wasn’t me…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 20th July 2018

It’s interesting to note how many people watch Sky TV in the afternoon. I base this observation on the number of emails, texts and WhatsApp messages I received during and after my appearance on Sky News this week – I particularly like the ones which say “Hey, you’re on my TV”, as if I am somehow not aware of the fact.

This week’s appearance in the spotlight allowed me to return to one of my favourite topics; the complete inability of Amazon to take responsibility for things which other retailers have to face up to as a matter of course, This time it wasn’t counterfeit products, tax avoidance or employees’ working conditions, but Amazon’s recurring problem in adhering to toy industry safety regulations that was up for debate. The specifics related to a Which? Report that found a host of slime products for sale on the Amazon marketplace which breached safety regulations.

The attendant media frenzy was unsurprising, if largely avoidable, had Which? issued a more accurate press release, or had journalists taken even a cursory look at the facts. The problem is not Slime – the problem is Amazon, and specifically Amazon Marketplace. Naturally, Amazon issued a bland, mealy-mouthed ‘non-apology’, saying it would remove offending products from the site. The ‘sorry, not sorry’ statement would have carried more weight had exactly the same thing not happened a mere six months ago; on that occasion, it was magnetic putty with dangerously high levels of arsenic. Sure, things slip through the net, but twice in six months is beyond careless – it suggests that there is no adequate process in place to stop the problem from recurring time and time again.

Removing the offending products is a classic case of ‘too little, too late’ – what were illegal products doing on there in the first place? Why is there no system in place to ensure that appropriate safety certificates have been ratified before the product is allowed to be posted? Bricks and mortar retailers would be fined a small fortune for a breach on this scale, so why is Amazon immune to punitive measures? How is it getting off effectively scott-free, without so much as a slap on the wrist, yet alone the heavy fine it so richly deserves? Amazon is shirking its duty of care by saying it is not responsible for marketplace vendors – it IS responsible, just as all reputable retailers are for their stock. Pretending otherwise is just the ‘Shaggy defence’ – “It wasn’t me.”

The toy industry – rightly – has some of the most stringent safety regulations in the consumer arena. Reputable suppliers and retailers spend a small fortune ensuring they comply. Meanwhile, Amazon just ignores them with impunity, which is wholly unacceptable. Hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of sales could now be lost by legitimate retailers and suppliers, with many consumers now believing there is a problem with all Slime, not just Amazon’s dodgy batches. We saw it with Magnetic Putty, when retailers had to explain to customers that there was no problem with their stock. It isn’t helped by poor-quality journalism, with many journalists and commentators avoiding calling a spade a spade. Nor should we be seeking to pass the responsibility on to the consumer to do all the work; how are they supposed to know if a vendor is a genuine BTHA member or a dodgy Chinese factory?

It’s quite simple really; Chinese companies are listing untested product on Amazon Marketplace and shipping direct, and Amazon is facilitating this by looking the other way. It cannot be allowed to continue – someone somewhere needs to put an end to it. It is time for the toy and safety community to unite around a common goal; Amazon should be subject to exactly the same rules as all other retailers, and the same punishment if it doesn’t. We simply cannot allow Amazon to continually bring the UK toy industry into disrepute without appropriate consequences.
And breathe.

Elsewhere this week, BLE has confirmed that the 2019 show will be moving from its current location at Olympia to Excel. The reaction to the announcement was largely as I suspected – especially from people who were in the toy trade a decade ago to witness the Toy Fair’s ill-fated dalliance with the venue. I’m not sure the phrase ‘a hint of scepticism’ quite covers it. In fairness, the organiser of BLE came to our office recently to explain the rationale behind the move, admitting that it was a decision the team had thought long and hard about. You’ll be able to read the full interview in the August issue of Toy World; we love challenging preconceptions and are very happy to share the changes that have taken place which – in theory, at least – make Excel a rather different proposition to the rather sad and sorry venue we inhabited all those years ago (spoiler; the opening of the Elizabeth Line in December could potentially be a game-changer). The rub for me is this; if they had chosen to move the show to Scunthorpe, I would still go, as I find attending the show valuable for our business. I go to Vegas each year, while making no secret of my preference – should a democratic vote ever be proposed – for a return to New York. Ultimately, we go where the circus goes (assuming, of course, that we feel the need to be part of the circus).

Finally, a brief postscript to last week’s comment about the latest set of US tariffs; I gather that while toys are not on the list per se, cosmetics and stationery have been added, affecting a number of art & craft-based toy companies. Talking to one US supplier last week, he admitted that it would almost certainly result in prices increasing by 20-40% to the consumer, depending on the price point. Assuming that happens, sales will surely drop, businesses will be adversely affected and domestic jobs will be cut – precisely the opposite of what the tariff is (purportedly) intended to achieve. It certainly won’t create any additional ‘Made in America’ toy product. Indeed, perhaps the most ironic news report I saw this week revealed that the price of Chinese-made ‘Make America Great Again’ hats will be increasing in price due to the tariffs. On so many levels, irony is officially dead.