Sign of the times…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 8th October 2021

The BTHA’s latest safety campaign went public this week. Still Toying with Children’s Safety (with emphasis on the word still) highlighted yet again that the online platforms have done little to address the problem of unsafe toys being listed by third-party vendors, while proving themselves to be incredibly slow to remove unsafe toys from sale. Putting a human face to the campaign, the report focuses on a 2-year-old child who swallowed tiny magnetic balls and had to have major surgery to repair the damage caused.

This is by no means an isolated incident – the identical thing happened to the daughter of a good friend of mine from the European toy community in the summer. He was absolutely distraught. Thankfully, both his daughter and Rebecca, the girl in the BTHA’s report, were successfully operated on and are now ok – but it could easily have been a very different story.

What the BTHA is asking is simply common sense – that the online platforms are subject to the same safety standards as bricks and mortar stores. I don’t think that is at all unreasonable. Realistically, for that to happen, it looks like the government will need to introduce legislation, as the online platforms have talked the talk, but not got close to backing that up with tangible action.

So, please, help the BTHA to put pressure on the government – no-one is asking you to glue yourself to the road outside Olympia, but signing the BTHA’s petition would help enormously. I appreciate that Amazon and other online platforms have become scarily powerful, and some people might not want ‘to get involved’ – I heard this week about an online seller who has been told by one of her regular toy suppliers that she isn’t allowed to sell an item on Amazon because Amazon’s own stock of the item has been delayed. I have my own thoughts on that, but we’ll leave that for another day.

Today, let’s focus on the fact that we may finally have found one tangible benefit to Brexit (it’s only taken four years…) – the fact that it is now within the UK’s government’s power to change this without needing the approval of other European governing bodies. We just have to make them sit up and take notice.

This isn’t a personal thing: there are many good people working for the online platforms – regular Toy World columnist David Ripley recently joined eBay as Horizontal Trading Senior Manager (there is a joke in there, but I digress…), while someone from Amazon was at my daughter’s wedding recently, and she seemed very pleasant. The issues are more systematic – platforms are obviating responsibility by claiming it’s ‘nothing to do with me guv’nor’. But it IS to do with them. It is a big ask, but it would be great to see this being debated in Parliament – and we can all help to bring about a change. It only takes a minute to add your voice – just click here.

In other news, the Toymaster regionals have been taking place over the past few weeks, and I have heard good things from both suppliers and retailers about the events. There’s also a new board in place at SMF Toytown, as Alan Simpson officially announces his plans to step back into what he describes as ‘semi-retirement.’ This week, we revealed Tesco’s top 10 festive toy predictions, the winners of the Play for Change Awards and the winners of the Blog On Awards (where everyone was a winner…. literally everyone).

There have also been plenty of new appointments to report – Kate Watson has joined Casdon as UK national accounts manager; Caroline Webb has been appointed as EMEA sales manager at Funrise and Kerri Atherton has returned to the BTHA as head of Public Affairs. I also gather that Steve Cox will be leaving Keel Toys (and the toy industry) in the coming weeks.

And, of course, the October issue of Toy World landed on desks this week – you can read the digital version of the issue here. It’s another humdinger, with a big section devoted to licensing – and there will be another special licensing-focused issue coming up in November, when we’ll be previewing the forthcoming BLE show. The show now has over 150 exhibitors confirmed, so I’m sure it will be a great event.

Elsewhere, Smyths released its financial results for the past year – its UK & NI turnover was £666m…sometimes the jokes just write themselves. Oh, and Amazon has opened its first physical non-food store in Bluewater, featuring a host of consumer products which includes toys (although from what I have read, not that many). Reports so far suggest the store provides something of an underwhelming experience, although I guess it depends what Amazon’s end game is here. The dual pricing strategy highlighted in store – one price if you have an Amazon account open, another much higher price if you don’t – may just be a way of persuading more people to set up an Amazon account ‘just in case’, hooking them into their eco-system.

A quick word about the latest on the logistics front, as TNT temporarily suspends its domestic UK service (presumably all of its drivers have left to drive petrol tankers…?), while there have been reports of significant price drops on the China to US shipping routes amid rumours of scalpers selling off spots before the start of the seven-day Chinese National Day holiday, which started this week. It will be interesting to see whether this is a short-term blip, or whether these clearance prices are maintained once the holiday finishes. As we report today, shipping industry title The Loadstar has suggested it will be Q4 ’22 before prices come down, which tallies with what I heard from shipping industry insiders several months ago.

Finally, thanks to all those people who suggested the obvious omission from the list of ‘shortage-related toys’ at the end of last week’s Blog – Frustration! Yep, that sums it up nicely. I just hope lots of those dodgy third party sellers on online platforms realise the list was meant as a joke, and not an actual list of popular toys – if anyone offers you a knock-off version of ‘Eff all on the shelf’, we know where they got the idea from.