Amid strong pre-lockdown trading, mass panic buying has prompted toy retailers to confirm that toys will still be available to purchase throughout lockdown.
As non-essential stores prepare to shut from Thursday, many shoppers are determined to secure the toys on their children’s Christmas lists (that they consider ‘essential’, whatever the government says.) The Entertainer’s Gary Grant has predicted that the three days of sales before lockdown begins could potentially translate into weeks’ worth of sales in a ‘normal’ year, and huge queues have been reported outside branches of Smyths Toys Superstores nationally. Some retailers have extended opening hours in the short term, to cope with the volume of customers.
Smaller multi-outlet retailers have also reported a surge in sales, with Stephen Barnes of Toy Barnhaus reporting that sales last weekend exceeded the Sunday of Black Friday weekend last year.
However, retailers have been quick to stress that there is no need to panic buy and that they will continue to provide goods to customers throughout the lockdown.
A statement released this week by Smyths Toys read: “With the new lockdown restrictions, Smyths Toys will still be trading with same day click and collect service, where you can pick your order up at the front of the store. There will be social distance markers outside each store to queue. Stores will trade using click and collect from 9am – 9pm Monday to Friday and normal hours at weekends. Smyths Toys home delivery service is also available.”
The Entertainer has promised “click & collect in 15 minutes”, as well as options for home delivery, collection from Asda via toYou or collection from myHermes parcel shops. Gary is expecting sales to continue to run at a high level for the whole of the month, both online and via The Entertainer’s click and collect service, for which he says there are “dramatic plans” to increase capacity.
Even smaller indies have told Toy World that they feel better prepared for the lockdown period this time. Victoria Simpson-Forrest of Forget-Me-Not Toys in Warrington said: “My main aim will be to keep things ticking over and make sure people remember us and don’t resort to using platforms like Amazon for all their Christmas shopping. We will do all we can to get our name out there, keep business going and get ready for what will hopefully be a good December.”
Having learnt valuable lessons in how to continue trading during the last lockdown, many indies are bringing back systems they have now fine tuned to offer the best service they can to customers, through the use of websites, social media, and personal advice and order taking via telephone. The growing tendancy to shop locally over the pandemic has enabled such stores to build up their clientele and foster a close relationship with customers that is now proving invaluable.
Andy Tipping of Marlow Toys added: “It is all about trial and error when living in the current climate and a lockdown, but from the interaction on our social media with the local community, the mood looks positive, which can only be a good sign for Christmas trading over the coming weeks.”
Thornton’s Toymaster in Chippenham echoes the sentiment that keeping in touch with customers over lockdown is key. Justine Elliot explained: “We pride ourselves on offering a very flexible and individual service to our customers and will continue to do so as best as we can whilst shuttered. People can place an order and make a card payment over the phone, before safely collecting from us. This keeps the shop front of mind, and the goal is for people to remember us. They have made an effort to shop locally this year and we trust that the increased pool of customers and our social media activity will mean this support continues.”
Meanwhile, Kerrison Toys in Norwich has reassured its customers: “There will ALWAYS be someone here processing orders for delivery and collection.”
Fearing potential supply chain issues, toy retailers are already well stocked for peak season and have emphasised that customers can spread out their Christmas shopping. Smyths Toys confirmed: “We have good levels of stock with more arriving every week to ensure we meet demand.”
Not all shops will be forced to close, however. Although most pureplay toy retailers will have to close their physical stores, several retailers that have been granted ‘essential’ status will be able to continue selling toys. As well as supermarkets and garden centres, Home Bargains and B&M have confirmed that they are among high street names expecting to remain open. Newsagents, hardware stores, bicycle shops and post offices that stock toys will also be permitted to trade.
Although concerns remain about managing another rush of customers when stores are allowed to re-open, with some already calling for extended trading hours to be allowed, shoppers that hold their nerve should still be able to spread out their toy purchases in the run up to the festive season.
Justine Elliot of Thornton’s Toymaster concluded: “We are keeping our fingers crossed for an upbeat final trading period. When we are allowed to reopen, we will be ready with a full team of staff and look forward to seeing all our customers in person again.”
It looks like Christmas isn’t cancelled after all.