Hannah K., journalist
DOVER, Del. — The ongoing threat of decreased spending and other economic impacts that come with the pandemic are bringing challenges for toy retailers this fall as staffing and shipping concerns continue into another Covid-era holiday season.
In July, the Toy Association, the trade association that represents U.S. toy manufacturers, sent letters to the U.S. government urging them to take action to help combat the shipping container crisis. Shipping dropped off in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic but then sharply increased at the end of the year, leading to delays and jams that continued into 2021, notably including the blockage of the Suez Canal in March. This was then accompanied by a shortage of workers to unload ships and in shipping containers to transport goods, which left many toy companies struggling with distribution. As a result, prices of products increased.
Walter Carroll, owner of They’re Action Figures, an independent toy store located in Dover, Delaware, noted how these price increases are impacting his business. “A lot of things are definitely raising the prices without necessarily adding any more value,” he said. When speaking of his experience buying toys for his store in recent weeks, he stated that he has seen prices for toys from Hasbro, a popular American toy maker known for several successful action figure brands including Transformers, increase as much as $5 per figure, with many other companies having similar drastic price jumps. “Mattel has been the only company so far that has been somewhat decent,” Carroll continued, adding that their increases have usually totaled around 80 cents per figure.
Carroll also said that finding and keeping staff has been difficult as other larger chain businesses have raised their wages to attract employees. “It’s not so much that there’s a shortage of product. It’s a job shortage. People just aren’t working,” he said. Carroll currently has no employees and is the only one working at the store as he prepares to move to a larger location within Dover’s Greentree shopping center. “I cannot match what Aldi or even McDonald’s at this point is paying,” he added.
Meanwhile, department store retailers are still gearing up for the holiday toy season. These big box retailers, including Walmart and Target, are not yet feeling the effects of holiday toy demand. “Right now it’s kind of slow. We haven’t really picked up on toys. We’re still kind of in the pumpkin-type season, so the toys hasn’t really picked up all that much yet,” Jennifer Bellerby-DiGangi, the manager at the Dover, Delaware Walmart store said of the demand.
At Target, toy demand was also described as slower. Taylar Marcellus, a guest services representative at the Dover Target store, cited changes in consumer shopping habits since the start of the pandemic as one contributing factor. “A lot of people are ordering online instead of coming in-store to purchase toys,” Marcellus said.
When Carroll, an independent collectibles store owner, spoke of his typical demand, he said, “The shopping season is usually just like any other month. It doesn’t increase that much for us.” He explained that because most of his regulars at They’re Action Figures are collectors of more niche properties who buy collectibles primarily for themselves, there is not a holiday rush at his store like the ones that department store retailers with more general markets might see.
So how should gift-givers consider all of these situations when on the hunt for top toys? In a recent article, The Toy Insider, a leading toy industry source for toy news, reviews, and information, gave some tips for the season. Their recommendations include shopping early for toys, budgeting more, and supporting local and small toy retailers.