The forced closure of toy shops as part of a new lockdown in England could lead to disappointment for children this Christmas as the industry struggles to cope.
Gary Grant, the founder and chairman of The Entertainer, said toy retailers usually sell £500m worth of toys during November, which was as big in sales terms as takings over the three months of the spring lockdown put together. “We could lose as much turnover in four weeks as we lost in 12,” he explained.
The stakes are even higher in December when the dash to the shops for favourites such as Lego, LOL Surprise! dolls and Nerf guns, accounts for a quarter of the country’s annual £3.6bn toy sales. If the lockdown creates pent-up demand, toy chains fear they will be unable to make up lost ground when shops are allowed to reopen due to the constraints put on trade by social distancing rules.
“I would ask Boris Johnson if Father Christmas is a key worker because if he is we are going to need a little bit of help because some of this stuff comes from our shops,” said Grant. “Coronavirus or not children won’t understand why their parcel is late.”
If a big chunk of the toy trade now moves online there is concern that retailers and courier services, some of which are already said to be operating at capacity, will not be able to fulfil orders.
“We saw our internet sales rise by 500% in April,” Grant said of his family-owned business. “What is going to defeat us in this period is capacity. If everybody spins to the internet, which is what happened during the first lockdown, the internet itself won’t fall over but the ability of people to pick, pack, and then deliver cartons is going to be challenging.”
The lifestyle changes forced upon Britons by the pandemic has actually been good news for toy retailers, with sales up 7% in the first seven months of the year, according to the market researchers NPD.
Unlike at the start of the first lockdown, the government has made it clear that non-essential retailers can still sell online and operate click-and-collect services. Many retailers are now channeling all their energies into these business channel but Grant said they would struggle to offset store closures.
“We will not be able to replace all of our business,” he said. “You can’t have 173 shops closed and expect the internet and click-and-collect to replace them. That’s just not possible.”