It’s the final countdown…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 20th December 2019

We’ve finally made it through to the last Blog of the year…and indeed, the final Friday Blog of this decade. On one level, I am envious of friends who have jobs where December largely consists of long liquid lunches and evening functions with clients. While many people are in the process of winding down as Christmas draws near, we are at our most frantic – putting the finishing touches to the ‘legendary’ January Toy Fair issue of Toy World (well, if the Radio Times refers to its Christmas edition as legendary, and our January issue is even bigger, I figure we can appropriate the phrase). I certainly sympathise with all the retail staff that are busy right down to the wire; like them, the last week before Christmas is crucial for us too. But I’m not sure I’d have it any other way: the buzz that we get from uploading and signing off our January issue must be just how retailers feel when they finally close the doors on 24th December. Hopefully they’ll be feeling as ecstatic – and relieved – as we will be to finish the year on a high.

Because, let’s not beat around the bush, it has been a rollercoaster of a year. While few were enthusiastic about a December election, it has at least delivered clarity – a definitive path now lies ahead of us, with any potential disruption likely to be at least 12 months away. Whether the decisive outcome has resulted in a pre-Christmas retail sales boost is yet to be determined: one retailer messaged me last weekend to say that the anticipated surge in footfall had yet to materialise in his neck of the woods. But he did admit to trading on parity with last year, which may not turn out to be all that bad, all things considered.

While I have grown accustomed to working right up until Christmas, we do at least have the luxury of being able to take off the week between Christmas and New Year. I feel particularly sorry for shop workers who finish late on Christmas Eve and then have to return to work on Boxing Day. That just doesn’t sit right with me, so we don’t even think about the sales until at least 27th – we’re still far too busy with visitors and celebrations on Boxing Day. Indeed, a survey this week suggested that 97% of shop workers oppose Boxing Day trading; no great surprise, any other result really would have been a ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ scenario. But fair play to Home Bargains, Aldi, Lidl and Homebase – plus any other retailers – who have taken the decision to remain closed on Boxing Day. I’m sure staff and their families appreciate it.

The nominations for UK Retailer of the Year were announced this week. There were some great names on the list (see the full list here), and, inevitably, the occasional curveball – in this instance, one retailer which made the list and one which didn’t. Of course, you can never please all the people all the time, and I did wonder whether changes to the judging process might see such an outcome. In terms of the ‘surprise’ inclusion, let’s just say that one account has repeatedly cropped up in conversation this year as having failed to live up to (admittedly sky-high) expectations. The same retailer was the subject of the most talked about post on LinkedIn his week – yes, someone else has wrestled that particular mantle from Isaac Larian, if only for one week! The post in question – from a former senior employee of said retail operation – certainly pulled no punches in its critique. That said, others clearly have a different perspective, hence the fact the retailer is up for an award.

The exclusion from the list was perhaps less of a surprise – our friends at Amazon once again failed to make the shortlist. Clearly, this doesn’t reflect’s contribution to toy sales, which is immense and grows with each passing year. Some may even think it uncharitable that the proprietary arm of Amazon is being penalised for the sins of sellers on its marketplace (and other online marketplaces, of course). But I try think of it this way: what if a large toy retailer – let’s call them Jones – set up an area called ‘Jones marketplace’ in one of its car parks or the corner of its stores, facilitating companies to sell directly to the public from this section. If there was a problem with an item, who would the customer think was responsible: the individual seller that no-one knows or will ever see again, or the name over the door – Jones? While all the online marketplaces are attempting to put their own houses in order, let’s be honest, they are still some way off. Hopefully further progress will be made in 2020 – the new SANTA Act in the US, a legal bill which will require online marketplaces to verify third-party seller information and disclose key seller details to consumers, points the way forward. You can read more about that initiative here: hopefully the UK and Europe will look to introduce similar legislation in the not too distant future.

I’m looking forward to seeing who ultimately triumphs at the awards night, which will be held on the first evening of Toy Fair – you can get your tickets here. But even though that is only a month away, there is still a lot to happen before then. So I’d like to wish everyone a fantastic last few days trading before Christmas, and equally positive sales in the days following Christmas. Toy World’s final email newsflash of 2019 will appear on Monday; after that, we’ll be ‘going dark’ until January 2nd. Keep a look out for an upgrade to our online offering in the New Year – our website and daily email newsflashes will be receiving a ‘wash and brush up’ to usher in the new decade. Although following our most successful year ever online, it will certainly be a case of ‘evolution, not revolution’. We may be the best in our field, but we always strive to be even better.

All that remains for me to do is wish you all a fantastic Christmas, a Happy and prosperous New Year, and to thank you all for your fantastic support this year. On so many levels, it was quite a brutal year – yet it was our best year to date. We literally couldn’t have done that without our readers and advertisers, so thanks to each and every one of you. May 2020 bring all you hope it will bring.