Staycation = Playnation

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Staycation = Playnation

So many Zoom calls commence with the same question: how has lockdown been for you?  I hear mixed reviews from my food, toy and entertainment clients.  Some toy clients are thriving with significant growth in home activities such as puzzles and arts/craft kits.  Others have mothballed their marketing campaigns simply because they cannot get enough toys either out of China or into retail distribution to deliver a return on their advertising investment.  Reports of a second wave in Wuhan are doing little to allay fears for the Autumn / Winter season. 

The consumer appetite for toys has grown, not waned over recent weeks.  We are about to witness the most widespread staycation in living memory, and in the face of economic hardship, a diversion of holiday travel expenditure into at home entertainment.  Toys. 

British weather is predictably variable beyond June.  There will be wet, rainy days stuck indoors in August, and so, whilst toy advertising spend usually takes a plunge in the summer months, this is a key moment for the toy industry to re-activate their marketing drive and insert themselves into children’s summer holiday lives in the most practicable, affordable and absorbing way possible. 

Of course, it only makes sense to reactivate marketing campaigns if supply can support demand, with inventory already located in the UK, and accessible to consumers – in the right place, at the right time.   We may well go through a boom-bust cycle of stores opening and closing based on action taken at a local or national level in relation to the Covid19 R number.  It requires a careful balancing act to ensure that inventory is in its best location to respond to the circumstances of the moment.  If stores go into lockdown again, will there be enough inventory in distribution warehouses to meet online sales demand and not too much stocking unseen and inaccessible shelves in shuttered up retail stores?

The online grocery channel has provided a much-needed lifeline to households for essential goods and boasts a volume of site visitors that toy companies can only dream of generating via their own branded sites.  For toy companies to fully capitalize on that online grocery traffic, they could invest in a joint direct selling venture with the grocers, using their own separate and independent warehouse and home delivery services to meet demand.  Understandably, the grocery channel’s focus is on securing supply of essential goods and this has made it much harder to establish toy visibility in store or space allocation in the grocery supply chain.  This joint initiative would insulate the toy category from future diversion of grocery channel resources and attention in the event of a second wave of Covid and keep inventory circulating in the right location to respond to demand.  In exchange, retailers themselves should take the necessary steps to improve the online shopping experience for toys with a few much-needed tweaks to the design and taxonomy of their e-commerce pages within brand guidelines. 

Paying a fair level of corporation tax in the UK, in the face of demand for properly funded public services, is a pertinent and dissonant issue to Millennial parents and is “heating up” as a topic discussed, advice being sought and searches tracked for alternatives to… Amazon.  The Entertainer, Smyths and Argos are the go-to alternatives to Amazon for shoppers seeking a wide range of toy choices.  They risk losing and may have already lost a measure of salience during lockdown. 

Ready for the return of normal trading and in response to trading during the pandemic, The Entertainer has a “Fast Track” proposition to provide a multitude of home delivery or collection options to service demand in these unusual circumstances.  There is more work to be done to refine a somewhat intrusive and muddled message about the “Fast Track” offer but small changes will improve an otherwise good response.  Smyths is consistently clear and measured in its approach, and second only to Amazon, in its CRO – converting online traffic to purchase and delivery. 

So many independent high street retailers have stepped up to the challenge and set up local home delivery services of food and essential goods, from local butchers, independent grocery stores and even farm shops.  There are even reports of a mini high street revival of sorts for small independent retailers and a boost of customer loyalty in response.  I had hoped that more of the independent toy retailers would follow the same example of other independents on the high street, turning a crisis into a catalyst for change and success.  Notably few Toymaster members have yet taken the leap to e-commerce. 

I’m a problem solver, a resource investigator by nature.  It gives me no joy to be a commentator on the side-lines at a time of crisis when so many fantastic small businesses are struggling to survive this pandemic.  I would urge the toy industry, and offer my services, to support the independent toy retailers who are currently at risk of missing the boat. 

The Great British Staycation is a unique opportunity to grab back the initiative and recover some much needed sales momentum.