As we flip the calendar page to October and the days get shorter, the toy industry is bracing itself, not really knowing what to expect for the 2020 holiday season.

Yes, the global toy market is enjoying strong growth with an 11% sales increase in the first eight months of the year, but half of annual sales are still ahead of us, and COVID-19 shows no sign of slowing down.

The question is, will families be willing and able to get together to celebrate? It very much depends on where you live. I did a virtual world tour of my colleagues on Zoom to find out what their plans are. The responses were mixed, but not one of them said they have made any firm plans. All are on standby. The usual Christmas cheer seems like a faraway memory.

If this waiting game continues for much longer, it is not going to play well with retailers. Many fear that the supply chain is not going to cope with a potential record demand for online sales.

For those shoppers who still like to visit stores, a worsening of the pandemic could be a strong deterrent. Retailers are ready with crowd management measures, with some implementing virtual queuing apps, one-way systems, scan & go payment and, of course, click & collect (curbside in the U.S.). Still, those last two weeks are critical for the toy industry, and in many markets they see the largest volume and turnover of the year as consumers finalise the last big items on their lists, enjoy the frivolity of the Christmas spirit and throw in impulse toys and stocking fillers at the bottom of their basket. Of course, staying out of brick-and-mortar stores will have a significant impact on retailers’ bottom lines.

For reasons like these, retailers are encouraging early shopping – from toy specialists like family-owned chain ‘The Entertainer’ in the UK, to Amazon, which has moved its Prime Day global event to mid-October to potentially boost holiday sales.

No visit, no gift?

On my side, I am concerned that the current movement restrictions, which are getting stronger by the day (except in some spared countries like Switzerland and Australia) will have an impact on the amount of gifts we will be giving. Less get-togethers could lead to less gifts, more vouchers, and more online sales that are shipped directly to the recipient. I already know I won’t be able to go and see my relatives in the UK due to mandatory two-week quarantines. Not that it matters much; we would not be allowed to all get together as a family, since gatherings of more than six people indoors are banned. This means I will probably not buy gifts for those adults I will not be able to meet in person.

That being said, this goes for adults, not for kids. In most countries, Christmas remains the favourite family gathering of the year, and a particular moment where children are central to everything we do. No quibbling on that. So, I will likely buy online and have presents shipped to my nephews and nieces. What matters to most of us is that the children get something under the tree on Christmas morning. In fact, it’s entirely possible that children will receive more tangible gifts this holiday season since cinemas, theatres, amusement parks, and travel plans might be called off, I hope for all of us that they get more toys!