It’s been half-term week, so consumer engagement has inevitably come to the fore – from large-scale events like Kidtropolis and Westfield’s Technology Showcase, through to supplier-driven activity such as the Barbie ‘you can be anything’ tour, toy companies are taking every opportunity to interact directly with their customers.
I popped down to Excel to witness Kidtropolis first hand – from the word go, it was evident that the event had attracted large crowds, necessitating some quick thinking by the organisers to help cope with the sheer volume of people and mitigate the queues that had built up at times on the first day. With some 20,000 people in attendance over the three days, it was inevitable that a bit of patience would be required (I took my kids to plenty of theme parks and attractions when they were young and it comes with the territory). But that number of visitors suggests there is considerable appetite for such an event, and there is plenty there for the organisers to build on for next year.
Retailers, too, are aggressively jostling for position, with some pretty big media spends being thrown around. Estimates put the cost of last week’s ‘Wargos’ Tesco print campaign alone at around £3/4m, but that was just the opening salvo – by all accounts Tesco will be following up with a ‘3 for 2’ promotion next week. Smyths has been running a coupon promotion all week, offering up to 20% off purchases, while B&M’s Christmas campaign – which starts in November – is rumoured to be costing a cool £4m. Quite how much of B&M’s advertising campaign will feature toys is unclear, but they may well choose to lead off with toys, as Tesco did. All of this must be putting significant pressure on Argos, so it will be fascinating to see how the retail market shares finish up at the end of the year. Can Argos really be toppled from the number one slot? Unthinkable in years gone by, there are more than a few who believe it’s not beyond the realm of possibility this year.
Meanwhile, over in the US, the mass retailers are having a skirmish of their own. With Sears’ discount chain KMart rumoured to be in some trouble, other retailers appear to have seized the opportunity to up their game. Wal-Mart is ramping up its in-store experience, doubling the number of product demonstrations and even setting up selfie booths. Meanwhile, Toys R Us has announced that it will price match Amazon and has also committed to its level of biggest inventory in years. This latter move has led to speculation that Toys R Us may be heading for an IPO in 2017, a move it initially put on the back burner several years ago after it decided that market conditions were not favourable. Whether conditions will be any more favourable next year remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that new CEO Dave Brandon is adopting a bullish approach to re-establishing TRU as a force to be reckoned with in the US toy market.
While we’re on the subject of retailers, the application process for the Retailer of the Year Awards has opened this week. You can read more about how to enter here. It’s worth noting that, for the first time, retailers will have the opportunity to expand their entry by including up to three short testimonials from their suppliers. As a member of the judging panel, I would encourage applicants to take advantage of this new opportunity – from experience, the more we know about you and what makes you stand out from the competition, the better it is for us.
Preview season starts for me next week, so my head will soon be well and truly in 2017 mode. But for now, let’s hope all toy retailers have a successful half-term week and a profitable Halloween.