Supermarket sweep, Argos closures and Cabbage Patch snubs…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 26th October 2012

You can tell there is only two months to go before Christmas; supermarkets have started their toy sales, which have come to signify the start of the festive selling period in earnest.

Sainsbury’s sale has traditionally been the most popular with bargain hunters, and consumer websites had been buzzing with anticipation in the run up to its launch on Wednesday at midnight. So eager were these bargain hunters that the Sainsbury’s website crashed less than ten minutes after the sale started! Or – as one conspiracy theorist suggested – did Sainsbury’s actually pull the plug? We’ll never know, but there were an awful lot of angry red ‘smileys’ on the particular consumer website I saw the next morning (can you call it a ‘smiley’ if it’s red and angry?). Some clever shoppers even tried to beat the system by loading up their online baskets before midnight, in an attempt to secure their purchases before stocks ran out (you have to admire their ingenuity).

But overall, there were mixed reactions to this year’s offerings, tempered perhaps by unrealistic expectations of the level of discounts on offer. For example, many expressed ‘disappointment’ that the discount on Lego products was only 33% (which actually sounds pretty good to me). A quick trip round the local Sainsbury’s on Wednesday lunchtime gave an indication on what sort of stock was on offer; a light sprinkling of popular brands (Ben 10, Sylvanian Families, Nerf), quite a lot of Mattel and Fisher Price lines (all at 50% off – so Mattel’s sales volumes will presumably show a significant increase this week) and an awful lot of own-brand merchandise. Far be it from me to suggest that Sainsbury’s had a lot of own-brand stock that hadn’t sold and which needed shifting….

But things move incredibly fast these days. By mid morning on Wednesday Amazon had price-matched much of the stock in the Sainsbury’s sale, and the next day saw Tesco start its own ‘3 for 2’ toy promotion. One customer immediately posted online: “I shall be returning some of my Sainsbury’s purchases as I can get better deals at Tesco.” So within less than 24 hours, something which had seemed like a great bargain was deemed over-priced and worthy of a trip back to the store to return it. ‘Fickle’ is the word which springs instantly to mind (well that’s the kind word anyway).

Tesco has been experiencing its own sale-related ‘challenges’; apparently some people ordering online have been receiving notifications saying that one or more of the items are out of stock, thus rendering the ‘3 for 2’ offer completely redundant. The inevitable upshot is that the customer is subsequently charged the full price for the remaining items – which rather negates the point of the deal – resulting in numerous orders being cancelled. Tesco are then telling the customer that it will take five days to refund their money, resulting in lots more of those angry red ‘smileys’ appearing next to Tesco’s name as well as Sainsbury’s.

Elsewhere, Argos announced it would be shutting up to 75 of its stores over the next five years as part of its plan to “re-invent” itself as a “digitally-led business.” The announcement also claimed that the catalogue will apparently play more of a “supporting role” in Argos’ business model going forward. It’s a bold move, and one which suppliers will no doubt be watching with interest. Interestingly, most toy companies have been telling me that Argos’ business has held up reasonably well in recent months.

By comparison, one retailer has apparently been saving money by turning the lights off in its building until it is pitch black. They claim its part of their ‘green initiative’, but several people have cast doubts on that particular view, especially as the retailer in question has allegedly been cancelling deliveries (even involving some shipments which have already arrived at UK docks).

Finally, I am most disappointed to be just about the only person in the media not to have received his own Cabbage Patch Kid lookalike this week. Jonathan Ross, Lorraine Kelly and even Alan Carr got one. I feel cruelly snubbed. But I have to say it’s been a very creative – and successful – PR campaign nonetheless.