UK Toy Retail Visits Report – December 3rd 2020

Like many in the toy business, one of my favourite things to do is to get out into stores and take a look at what toys and games are on sale, what seems to be selling well, which toys have been marked down, to check where the toys are manufactured and many more things.

I have many happy memories of wandering around toy stores around the world on my travels. One of the least flexible dates on my calendar is a day in December each year of inspecting toy stores and toy aisles across retail in my home market – the U.K. Over time there have been many changes in UK retail, with some store chains coming and going, with a varying product mix and ever-changing product trends. The thing that stays the same is the joy of seeing all the hard work of hundreds of thousands of people across the toy trade out on display, and then to see parents and children pick up the products. In fact, one of the most valuable and insightful things you can do in the toy business is to eavesdrop on conversations shoppers are having related to pricing, and to observe the ding-dong process of pester power and to understand the decision making factors which you don’t necessarily get to hear sat at a desk somewhere.

This December looks like being particularly challenging in UK retail due to a combination of not enough delivery capacity, overloaded ports, chaotic government policy and varying Covid-19 restrictions by location.

With all this said I ventured out on Thursday 3rd December on my tour of toy retail in the North of England. This was the day after UK national lockdown #2 had been lifted. While some restrictions remained in place all retailers were allowed to open in the areas I visited. Stores visited included Smyths, The Entertainer, Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys, Argos, B&M, Home Bargains, Forbidden Planet, Debenhams, Waterstones and WH Smiths. Footfall was fairly strong for a wet Thursday lunchtime, although the weekend shopping days may deliver more insights into footfall year on year. In theory footfall should be very high up until Christmas for a number of reasons: people having been locked down and wanting to get out, the now very pressing need to shop for presents for family and friends and over stretched delivery capacity both into retail and out of retail.

Toy shelves looked well shopped, and in some cases decimated which bodes well – although gaps on shelf are often a sign of the restocking efficiency of the stores, one merchandiser did advise me that there was very little stock left in the back either. Replenishment is going to be big struggle for UK retailers dealing with chaotic ports and chaotic delivery schedules, but fingers crossed as much stock as possible makes it onto shelves. There is a definite risk of inventory hangover heading into January 2021, but in the manner of some toyfair booths which look terrible until right before the end of stand building, hopefully December retail sales can come together in a final manic rush of frenzied consumer spending and highly pressurised logistics.


ARTICLE WRITTEN BY STEVE REECE. Steve is a leading toy and game industry Consultant with a massive propensity for eating ice cream. For more on him and our Consultancy services: