Imagine the toy store of your childhood – or at least the one you think you remember, where you could run wild down the aisles, picking up toys to play with and no one cared. That’s the idealistic vision of British retailer The Entertainer, with a mission to be “the best little toy store, one child, one community at a time”.
With 170 physical stores in the UK and 50 in Spain, where The Entertainer owns the Addo brand, the retailer has also invested heavily in scalable infrastructure to meet its online needs, including a commitment to click-and- 30 minute collection. The company uses SAP Commerce Cloud to achieve this. Over the seven years of working with SAP, e-commerce has followed an upward trajectory across The Entertainer Group, inevitably bolstered last year by the impact of the COVID pandemic.
According to Rob Wood, Head of Online Service, The Entertainer, 2020 has been “an upside-down year” for the retailer:
There have been long periods when our last doors were closed. For a group with several hundred physical retail spaces, this was a huge challenge. But whenever we’ve seen retail affected by closures, we’ve seen an immediate explosion in online and click-and-collect demand.
A common theme emerging from the retail sector in recent months is that companies that had invested in omnichannel capabilities before the pandemic were best positioned to weather the forced store closures. That was the case with The Entertainer, though the sudden surge in online activity still posed its own challenges, Wood recalls:
The initial challenge we had with this surge in e-commerce traffic was actually trying to keep up with the pace of execution. Stores in the UK closed at the end of March. We had an amazing time in April where we were basically doing a week [worth of] sales every day, so we had about a sevenfold increase in those first two or three weeks of lockdown. The challenge we had from an e-com perspective was that we physically couldn’t get packages through the warehouse and out fast enough.
The solution was to convert the existing distribution center that served physical stores to act as an e-commerce fulfillment center. This came in handy in November when the UK entered a second lockdown. Having carried out the conversion during the first confinement, The Entertainer found itself better positioned before Christmas than some of its competitors.
Summer 2020 saw a number of other technology investments, including a new CRM system, which helped bring together customer information across the various brands, including The Early Learning Center, which was acquired by the late group 2019. The Klarna ‘buy now, pay later’ was another addition, which proved very popular in Europe.
There was also a decision to partner with several top fashion brands to create new online reach. These included brands like Marks & Spencer, Matalan and Debenhams, all of which had little or no history of selling toys, Wood notes:
We opened online dealerships on their websites. This allowed us to introduce all of our toys, products and bargains to a new group of customers, but it also meant that we didn’t have to worry about the operational aspect, because once we put our stock in the Marks & Spencer warehouse, they take care of it, rather than us.
At the time of writing, the UK is in the throes of its third lockdown, with all non-essential retail businesses once again closed. This time around there is even talk of restricting click and collect services for retailers other than groceries and other essentials, with Scotland taking the lead here. That said, vaccination programs have gotten off to a promising start, with the prospect of a gradual return to some form of normalcy beginning to be felt from March.
With that in mind, The Entertainer, like other retailers, can start looking ahead and planning their priorities for 2021, though Woods is candid on that front:
What we learned from  is that we cannot predict what will happen. Our predictions throughout 2020 were all the time wrong, but not just a little wrong – they were wrong for miles around. Every time we thought a particular thing was going to happen, it turned out that something different would happen. We were going through a period where we thought click-and-collect was absolutely going to explode and it didn’t. There were times when we thought click-and-collect would be dead because no one wants to go to the main street and in fact we had a huge demand for it.
Despite such volatility and uncertainty, The Entertainer has managed to weather the storm and emerge in reasonably good shape, especially compared to many other retailers. Key to this was operational agility and flexibility, says Wood:
This will continue to be our guiding principle over the next 18 months as we cannot afford to put all our eggs in one basket and completely go down one path because we just don’t know if it’s the right way at the moment. This flexibility and agility will therefore be absolutely essential.
That said, investing in our e-commerce was extremely successful at the end of 2020 and we will absolutely continue to do so this year. Payment is hugely important in the UK e-commerce landscape right now. What we’re seeing is that consumers are almost expecting a choice menu now to buy now, pay later, so we’ll definitely be looking at that.
As for click-and-collect – assuming it survives government regulation – it is expected to become an increasingly important part of the e-commerce journey, continuing to evolve over time. weather. Wood supports:
In 2019, the way travel worked was that you go to a website, choose your products, get to the shopping cart, and then think click and collect would be the most convenient way to go and pick up the items. I think now the journey is almost, ‘I have to go to a physical store to buy toys. What I need to do first is go online and check that these items are there and buy them so I can be sure that when I walk into the store it won’t be a wasted trip” . So we kind of flipped that customer journey. Ensuring our journey around click-and-collect is as clear, simple and hassle-free as possible is absolutely vital this year.
But with the COVID crisis still far from over and the potential for surprises to come on the road to recovery, the main focus remains agility and the ability to “roll with the punches” depending on what happens. is happening in the market. Wood concludes:
This is the most important thing we are going to focus on this year. It will absolutely be the key to success this year, being able to react to what is happening in the market, to react to changes in consumer behavior.