The pandemic is affecting the variety of specialist toy retailers
The situation in the world’s largest toy market, the USA, is everything but uniform. Many of the around 1,800 independent specialist toy retailers are in danger of not surviving the pandemic. If that happens, it will have far-reaching consequences for the future. Richard Gottlieb, CEO of Global Toy Experts, expressed his concerns that the "USA could become a toy store desert" in conversation with Toy Guy Chris Byrne in the Playground Podcast.
It is not just about children and families losing their favourite expert toy retailer around the corner. The variety of products consumers can choose from in brick-and-mortar stores will simply become smaller. On average, large-scale consumer markets may have an impressive selection of 3,000 to 5,000 products. However, if you consider the Spielwarenmesse in Nuremberg, that is only a mere fraction of the actual offering. At world’s largest playroom, around one million products and game ideas are presented year after year. It will become much more difficult for manufacturers to launch products into the market successfully and sow the seeds for the classics of tomorrow.
Active customer contact saves sales numbers
Specialist retailers around the globe have undergone the same experience. During lockdowns, they were widely cut off from their customers. It is now known that in the UK, for example, customers stocked up on toys shortly before the lockdown was put into place. The British magazine Toy World reported about toy retailer Toy Box in Beccles, Suffolk, for example. During the second lockdown until December 2020, the Toy Box only managed to keep itself afloat by offering click & collect. To give customers more time for Christmas shopping when the store reopened, it was open on all Sundays as well. Furthermore, the store’s already established online presence turned out to be a significant supporting pillar for 2020.
The German toy store Pfiffikus in the toy city Nuremberg itself had a very different experience. Owner Nicole Moser-Dümpelmann had already put her own simple and effective solution into practice during the first lockdown in spring of 2020. To be able to advise her customers in person, she turned her smartphone into a personal shopping consultant, Pfiffilotta. She answers customer requests with individual two to three-minute long videos with product proposals and a personal message via WhatsApp or FaceTime and also offers to take customers around the shop to look at her product range via videocall.
Ms Moser-Dümpelmann had two interesting experiences with her smartphone Pfiffilotta. On the one hand, she lost many great-grandparents not used to using smartphones as customers. The social media channel, on the other side, was used to three quarters by new customers. Having said that, Ms Moser-Dümpelmann was able to significantly exceed her own shop’s revenue with her "really simple" idea. In addition, she held weekly meetings with two other specialist toy retailers from the region via video conference during the Covid-19 pandemic. They even banded together into a loose purchasing group for certain toys at better terms.
Let customers know about innovative services
German specialist toy retailers have now been stuck in the second lockdown since the middle of December, while supermarkets and drugstores keep on selling toys. Brick-and-mortar specialist retailers are therefore under much more pressure to improve their services and sales.Brick-and-mortar specialist retailers are therefore under much more pressure to improve their service and sales.
According to the commercial research institution IFK Cologne, over one third of all German consumers relocated their purchases to the Internet. Consumers seldom make us of the new services retailers have come up with. Click & collect is used most at 17 percent, while delivery services are used by 16 percent. This is all according to IFK Cologne’s "Corona Consumer Check".
New cross channel services such as consultations via social networks, virtual showrooms, or virtual shopping experiences are rarely used at all (5 %). At the same time, consumers assess the latter as interesting ideas but point out that they are not prominent enough yet. Developing these and other cross channel offerings and communicating said offerings to the target group has turned out to be an important approach for brick-and-mortar retailers.
About the author
Thomas Tjiang is business and local journalist and communication consultant. Since the start of the 1990s, he has worked for all types of media, such as daily and monthly press, the radio, TV, news agencies and on-line editorial offices. The freelance expert for literature and communication science has lived in Nuremberg for 30 years.