UK toy stores are open for business

Monday 15th June saw the reopening of key Toys and Games retailer’s bricks and mortar stores across the UK market. A small number of efforts have been made to reconnect with customers and create a new normal instore experience.


It’s been no secret that the coronavirus impact has had a detrimental affect on the retail market. Whilst consumers spending habits switched to purchasing essential items only and then to mainly spending online, brands and retailers have eagerly been awaiting the reopening of physical stores. Many speculated that social safety would need to be a priority to give visitors confidence and customers would need to be convinced that it’s worth visiting the stores over ecommerce shopping.


Across the UK Toys and Games bricks and mortar stores, this week saw the full reopening of The Entertainer and Smyths. Whilst Hamley’s and Argos remain part open. Argos have some stores open in selected areas for the collection of pre-paid online orders. The Entertainer, Smyths and Hamley’s have opened stores with steps taken to manage the risk and comply with Government guidance.  This is promising news for the UK retail market as Northern Ireland opened many of its non-essential stores last week. SMF Toytown reported being on target to reach the same levels of sales that the store achieved in 2019. Whilst this is reassuring for sales, it is interesting to speculate from an instore experience perspective what the reopening under new measures could mean for customers visiting.


Hamley’s is famous for their entertaining instore experience with demonstrations being the key stone for their business. They will be using markers and signage, one-way systems and reduced capacity to ensure their stores operate within social distancing guidelines. They are set on creating “magical memories and experiences” and have taken the various measures as “our world is better with you, so we made it safer for you”. Although, the frequency and types of demonstrations will be reduced they are keen to ensure visitors still have some element of entertainment when in their stores. However, what will be interesting to see is if kids will be instore at all to enjoy this entertainment.


Unsurprisingly, The Entertainer have taken similar social distancing measures instore with frequent cleaning to trolleys/basket handles and hand sanitiser for customers to apply upon entry. They recently introduced a Zero Contact Click and Collect service to keep customers and staff safe. This service removes the instore experience, with orders being ready to collect within 30 minutes if in stock or three working days if being delivered from the warehouse. Customers are met at the door with orders for collection two metres apart and given packages without signing to stay safety separated. With less emphasis on the instore experience and encouraging Zero Contact Click and Collect. It will be interesting to see the impact this has on the stores reconnecting with their customers and creating enjoyable environments.


Smyths have been promoting their online store with free home delivery on orders over £19 and same day Click and Collect when ordering by 3pm. They have no instore events scheduled and have asked their customers to only bring children to store if necessary. If children must attend they have to remain with adults at all times. Numbers have been capped at two children only per adult, with all unaccompanied children not being allowed within store. Similar safety measures as The Entertainer and Hamley’s have been adapted to the store, with screens added to the tills to allow customers to pay from distance. Credit card contactless payments are promoted as the preferred option and available up to £45. In an attempt to encourage a range of instore visitors but control crowds, they have also introduced a dedicated shopping hour. This is every Thursday between 9-10am for vulnerable and elderly customers. Frontline workers can also get priority access during opening hours by showing their ID.


Across the market the new normal seems to be UK toy stores are open for business but the instore experience is not being endorsed in the same way as pre-covid. Whilst it is great news for brands and manufacturers that consumers can finally have access to stock that they have been previously unable to get their hands. The path to purchase and instore experience is different, in a negative way. This could change more positively in the coming weeks but for now the general consensus, seems as if Toys and Games retail stores are playing it safe. This is to ensure their stores are adhering to government guidelines and not promising whole family’s day outs with instore entertainment experiences as we had pre-covid.


Beyond the Toys and Games retailers other bricks and mortar stores are playing it less safe with their re-opening plans. They have announced the importance in focusing on customer service, staff expertise and customer experience. Ikea want to give customers “experiences they couldn’t get in lockdown”. Selfridges opened this week offering its customers “joyful experiences”. Through personal after hours shopping trips, revamping their window displays and providing entertainment for those queuing outside with live DJs. It seems the Toys and Games retailers have more to do in this space, if they are to reassure consumers to shop instore ahead of online like other retail sectors.