Flexible logistics helps The Entertainer meet online demand

Industry: Toys
Region: UK
Founded 1981
Products: Shipping

Years’ volume in 12 weeks

Greater flexibility between carriers

Best carrier selected each time

Customer promise guaranteed

[The priority for 2021 is] how we take the volumes we have and go back to offering the same level of service we would have expected to offer customers in pre-COVID-19 times.

Challenges

The Entertainer is the UK’s largest independent toy retailer, operating 173 shops across the UK. It also operates two websites: thetoyshop.com and the Early Learning Centre (elc.co.uk). Gary Grant, Executive Chairman and Founder of the retailer, says that the initial COVID-19 lockdown and the dramatic move of customers online “turned [the business] upside down at great pace.”

The toy sector is a highly seasonal business, with half of the year’s turnover in the final quarter of the year. However, classed as a non-essential retailer, The Entertainer was forced to close stores for over four months from March through to Christmas. Forty of its shops were closed at short notice during the busiest week in the run-up to Christmas.

In the early stages of the pandemic, the company saw huge spikes in demand for certain products, including “phenomenal volumes” in items such as swing ball sets, sand, puzzles, games and craft items. Grant describes this as “five years’ volume in just 12 weeks”.

At the same time, social distancing measures compressed the available working capacity at warehouses. What’s more, the rapid changes in the virus and restriction situations made it difficult to forecast sales and parcel volumes.

A longer-term shift to online shopping also affects the types of items people are buying, including a shift from smaller to larger items. The relationship with couriers will be key here, Grant says.

 

Solution

The company works with Metapack to flex between different couriers and ensure that the right items are shipped by the right one – items such as sand pits, for example, are “a courier’s nightmare”. This flex is used to ensure that express deliveries are fast-tracked and that the oversize items are moved by capable couriers.

“I think we’re talking to couriers an awful lot more than we were a year ago,” says Grant.

The company offers a range of delivery promises, including next-day delivery and free standard delivery on orders over $55.66 (£39.99). It offers several collection options, including from its own stores (when open) and from Asda and MyHermes parcel shops.

Results

As the pandemic has continued, there has been a shift from simply handling capacity to offering better service. Grant says that unlike in the first lockdown, “I don’t think customers will put up with long lead times – they are expecting an outstanding level of service”.

He says that the primary focus in 2021 is “how we take the volumes we have and go back to offering the same level of service we would have expected to offer customers in pre- Covid-19 times.”

Grant expects that high street shopping will return to a degree when consumer confidence returns, but the internet will not go back to pre-COVID-19 levels.

“This does leave retailers with a challenge if [physical] turnover is lower, with the establishment costs stores face.”

I don’t think customers will put up with long lead times – they are expecting an outstanding level of service

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