“Way to go”…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 28th September 2018

Now that the kids are back at school, it was only a matter of time before the big retailers wheeled out the opening salvos of their festive promotional campaigns. This week has seen Argos initiate its inaugural ‘three for two’ offer of the season, while Smyths has been offering £10 off every £50 spend. No doubt there will be plenty more deals flying around over the coming weeks and months, as we continue to condition the consumer to expect special offers and price reductions in the run-up to Christmas as a matter of course. I just hope that the confectionery and florist trades are watching and realise where they’ve been going wrong ahead of Valentine’s Day all these years.

Elsewhere, Toymaster has launched its Christmas catalogue, while several retailers – including Hamleys and Shop Direct – have issued top toys for Christmas lists. I think it’s fair to say that the festive starting gun has been well and truly fired – although the hotel which was criticised for putting a fully-decorated Christmas tree in its lobby a few weeks’ back deserves all the flak it gets in my humble opinion (especially as the sun is shining gloriously outside my window as I write this).

Speaking of sun and blue skies, a large number of UK retailers and suppliers have been out in LA this week, as the unofficial ‘LA toy week’ seems to grow in significance every year. Some people have even suggested that this might adversely impact the number of people visiting the Far East over the autumn period, especially those from a particular industry demographic (the larger the buyer/ supplier, the more LA seems to exert an inescapable pull).

Back at home, Tesco has made some key changes at the top of its toy buying team, with Claire Urquhart-Deane taking over the role of senior buying manager for outdoor toys, pre-school toys and nursery, while Ladislav Gajdos will become senior buying manager for girls, boys, construction and games. We wish them both every success in their respective new roles.

Over in France, news has emerged that Toys R Us France has potentially found a buyer, as Orchestra’s top executive Pierre Mestre has confirmed he intends to take over the operation, assuming he is given the green light by the commercial court of Evry on October 3rd. I am sure that there are an awful lot of crossed fingers in the French toy community right now. The plan would see Orchestra take over 38 of the 53 existing outlets, retaining over 900 of the 1500 current staff. If the judge approves the takeover, there is still the small matter of the Toys R Us name to be resolved. The brand is currently owned by an American debtor, which apparently closed a deal with the new owner of the Spanish division of Toys R Us, allowing for the use of the brand name in exchange for 1.5% of the turnover. Pierre has suggested that if he fails to close a deal with the American rights holder, the chain will be renamed Orchestra & Toys. Either way, Pierre has promised a 60m Euro investment to help resurrect the business – he clearly sees a major opportunity in the French toy market.

There have been a couple of interesting developments at Amazon which will be of more than passing concern to the toy community, especially retailers. First, Amazon has opened a trial concept store in New York, which includes toys as part of its product selection (let’s just hope they’ve focused on the legitimate toys the site traditionally offers, rather than some of its dodgier third-party-seller lines). Intriguingly, digital price tags will line the shelves of the store, allowing pricing to be as reactive and flexible as it is online – now there’s something to think about for the future.

Another interesting – but by no means welcome – development is the introduction of a new Snapchat ‘visual search’ facility, which allows users to simply point their camera at an item or barcode, prompting the app to present them with an Amazon link for that product or similar ones. It just makes the whole practice of ‘showrooming’ even easier for the consumer, which isn’t the best news for bricks and mortar retailers. If I ever go on Dragons Den, it might well be with a device which jams mobile signals – I can see every retailer in the UK being a potential customer!

Finally, this week’s irony klaxon has been once again been sounding in the close vicinity to President Trump, who I am sure would love to be perceived as a major political strategist and not at all a complete chancer who is massively out of his depth. Judge for yourself, after it emerged this week that US companies rushing to import products ahead of the potential tariff rise to 25% in the New Year have pushed China’s trade surplus with the US to a record level in August. Yep, the man who proudly says that he wants to make America great again has somehow conspired to make America’s trade deficit with China even worse than it was before! As I believe Americans are wont to say, “way to go.”