So, the end is in sight. At the time of going to press, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled his plan to pilot our way out of unlocking lockdown. The road back to normality was going to be driven by data but apparently we are now being guided by dates – with all restrictions due to be lifted by June 21.
Our end-consumers – children – take priority of course. Schools will reopen on 8 March, which is great news for everyone. Remote learning is all very well, but millions of kids have been homeschooling for weeks and it’s been a big adjustment for them and their parents. Youngsters have sacrificed so much in this pandemic and we all want them back at school, meeting their teachers and playing with and seeing their friends again.
Non-essential retail shops will take longer to reopen – but at least we can now count the days off our calendars until 12 April. This timing has come as a blow to many bricks-and-mortar toy businesses that were feeling the strain even before the Covid crisis and then lost out on the all-important festive period. Now Easter will be another missed opportunity.
But they will no doubt understand and respect the government’s cautious approach, because no one wants to go back into lockdown again. Having shown huge resilience throughout the pandemic, toy retailers will be prepared to weather this storm for a little longer if it means they can safely trade with their shop doors open – although it goes without saying that all their safety protocols are already in place, with protective screens, face shields, hand sanitiser stations and social distancing signage just waiting to be dusted off.
As TnP has reported in past issues, during the three lockdowns many toy businesses ensured they maintained engagement with their customers via email and social media. An online presence has been more critical than ever as people have had to have a virtual rather than physical relationship with their favourite toy shops.
Some toy traders who hadn’t really got to grips with ecommerce moved quickly to switch to sell online by investing in web stores, introducing click and collect services and doing local deliveries or postal orders – and they have seen growth in their businesses as a result.
Others took it a step further. As our Retail Interview with eBay in this issue shows, many bricks-and-mortar retailers took the plunge into this channel in 2020. Toy Barnhaus is a case in point: the eight-strong chain took its shops online through eBay and the move has really paid off. The company shipped more than 150 parcels in their first weekend and saw online sales take over its historical bricks-and-mortar sales at key moments like Christmas. Now Toy Barnhaus says integrating the eBay store into its core business plan is front of mind as it looks to the future when stores are reopened.
So, the wait is nearly over and I’m sure every toy retailer is raring to go – and feels very relieved to have a date in the diary to pull up the shutters. In the words of our Talking Retail contributor Jayne Rees of Eve’s Toy Shop in Llandeilo, South Wales: “I’m so looking forward to it! Not only financially – I miss the chaos that comes with running a toy shop, and I miss the kids and our customers.”
The high street has been in enforced hibernation but the government has now chartered a route out. For retailers, it’s still several weeks away – but at least the uncertainty is over and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Now the focus is on the Spring Budget. Let’s hope the Chancellor continues to protect businesses, livelihoods and jobs
as we look to recover from more than a year of disruption.
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