Boris Johnson has ordered a month-long lockdown to commence on November 5th and ordered non-essential retail outlets throughout England to close.
The shutdown comes at a crucial time for many retailers, at the peak of the Q4 trading period. For toy retailers, this is when the majority of turnover traditionally takes place, sometimes as much as 40%.
Following losses in April and May, the last time non-essential shops were forced to close, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium has warned that, “now we are entering the Christmas shopping period, these losses are certain to be much bigger.”
The public has been asked to stay at home from Thursday this week, unless for specified reasons, including ‘essential’ shopping. To reduce social contact, all non-essential retail will close, although deliveries and click-and-collect can still operate. Many shops, including toyshops, will have to close their doors during one of their most profitable months of the year and will be forced to rely on offering Covid-secure collection services and trading online, to meet the challenge of continuing to serve customers – and turn over stock – in the run up to Christmas.
Only food outlets, supermarkets, hardware stores, garden centres and certain other retailers providing essential goods and services can remain open. Unlike Wales, however, these retailers will not be asked to close off aisles selling non-essential goods, meaning they could take toy sales from high street retailers.
The industry has been encouraging customers to shop early for Christmas this year, to avoid stock supply and delivery issues. Toy specialist retailers have been managing supplies carefully, to cater for spread-out demand, but now face the very real threat that, while they are closed due to the restrictions, parents trying to secure specific toys that children have requested will turn to major online retailers or other retail channels instead.
Last week’s DreamToys event was used to reinforce the shop early message, with Gary Grant, founder and CEO of The Entertainer and chairman of the DreamToys selection committee, stating: “Due to Covid-19 restrictions across the country, retailers will simply not be able to service as many people in store due to social distancing. In addition, couriers are already overloaded and will struggle to meet the demand to get presents to people before Christmas. Added to this is the limited availability of stock compared to previous years; our advice is to shop early to avoid missing out.”
For the toy industry, the issue is as much about operational capacity as stock availability. In an article in The Guardian, Gary added: “I would ask Boris Johnson if Father Christmas is a key worker; if he is we are going to need a little bit of help, because some of this stuff comes from our shops. Coronavirus or not, children won’t understand why their parcel is late.”
With retailers already concerned about managing customer numbers over the peak shopping period due to social distancing measures, this will become even more of a challenge when they do re-open.
Speaking on behalf of bricks and mortar retailers who are used to seasonal fluctuations, Waterstones chief executive James Daunt said: “In theory, we still have December, but in practice, we don’t. You can’t turn off a retail business, flick it back on and expect it to perform seamlessly.”
Retailers across the British Isles continue to face restrictions and challenges. Today, Scotland commences new restrictions under a bespoke 5-Tier system, with non-essential retailers in the highest tiers ordered to close. Wales is due to exit a 2-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown on 9th November, with the Welsh government due to reveal a new set of “national rules” across Wales during a news conference today. In Ireland, the current lockdown runs until December 1st, while Northern Ireland restrictions are currently due to end on November 13th.