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From Russia with media love

BY CSA STAFF

Here we go again. Every so often the media gets a hint that Wal-Mart Stores is looking to expand into Russia and the speculation begins. The latest report from Reuters claims that the retailer still sees opportunity in the country as it looks to possibly by the X5 chain. X5, however, is denying reports that it is in talks with Walmart. Whether a purchase in Russia will happen anytime soon remains to be seen, but anything regarding the biggest retailer and one of the biggest markets will continue to garner attention. Read the full article here.

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Retail container traffic to increase in first half of 2012

BY CSA STAFF

WASHINGTON — The monthly Global Port Tracker report, released Wednesday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, said that import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to be down 6.8% in February from the same month a year ago. However, volumes should show year-over-year increases through most of the remaining first half of 2012.

“With consumer confidence building, retailers are optimistic that the economy is recovering but are continuing to be cautious with their inventory levels,” NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said. “Merchants want to be sure that growth will be sustained and that demand will be there to meet supply.”

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.17 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in December, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 6% from November since holiday merchandise was already on the shelves but up 2% from December 2010 and brought 2011 to a close at 14.8 million TEU, up 0.4% from 2010’s 14.75 million TEU. One TEU is one 20-ft. cargo container or its equivalent.

January 2012 was estimated at 1.17 million TEU, down 3.3% from January 2011, and February, historically the slowest month of the year, is forecast at 1.03 million TEU, down 6.8% from a year ago. Increases are expected to resume in March, forecast at 1.18 million TEU, up 8.6% from last year. April is forecast at 1.25 million TEU, up 2.4%; May at 1.28 million TEU, down 0.7%; and June at 1.28 million, up 3%. The first half of 2012 should total 7.18 million TEU, up 0.5% from the same period last year.

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High-tech and low-tech play out at Toy Fair

BY CSA STAFF

Toy buyers, manufacturers, retailers and others, simply curious about the latest trends, gathered this week at the massive Javitz Center in New York City to see what would be the hottest products for 2012.

Technology continues to be a popular driver of new products, as evidenced by the number of toys designed specifically to work with the iPhone or iPad. However, there was also an apparent shift toward more simple toys, perhaps reflecting the current economy and the inability of many parents to shell out $100 on a toy that will only get played with a short while.

Toy manufacturers are leveraging the popularity of Apple products to offer a whole new level of play. Mattel, for example, introduced its Apptivity line, which it describes as “toy meets tablet.” Using patent-pending technology, Apptivity allows kids to take a physical toy, such as a Hot Wheels car and play with it on the screen of an iPad. Hasbro’s new Lazer Tag game utilizes the camera, in the iPhone or iPod touch along with a free app to create an experience that connects real life and video games. Jakks took the top-selling Songify app, which turns everyday moments into music, into a new toy that allows kids to create a song simply by speaking.

Social media was also a key driver of new toy development for 2012. Mattel turned to YouTube to see what girls like most about its Fijit toy to help launch its companion Yippit toy, Mega Brands turned to fans at Halo Fest for inspiration for its 2012 line, and Gund launched a new stuffed animal based on the Facebook sensation Boo the Pomeranian.

While low-tech toys going high-tech was a major trend at this year’s Toy Fair, the reverse was also true, with many popular online games and apps inspiring more traditional toys and games. Hasbro, for example has entered into an agreement with Zynga, the makers of the widely popular online games Words with Friends, Farmville and Cityville for a new line of board games.

Licensing of highly-anticipated films and TV shows was once again a big part of Toy Fair as companies hope to leverage their popularity into big sales. Geoworld made its Toy Fair debut with its line of paleontologist-approved line of dinosaurs inspired by Nick Jr.’s “Dino Dan.” Mattel hopes the buzz around the much-anticipated “The Dark Knight Rises" will have fans lining up to purchase its collection of action figures and vehicles. For its upcoming "Monsuno" line, Jakks worked closely with Dentsu Entertainment USA, FremantleMedia Enterprises and The Topps Company to develop toys and games that would launch simultaneously with the TV show.

With more consumers calling for transparency about how and where their toys are made, it’s no surprise that many of the exhibitors at Toy Fair boasted eco-friendly offerings and their “Made in the U.S.A.” credentials. Mega Brands touted its Bloks First Builders pre-school construction line, which comes in an eco-friendly bag, while Jakks promoted the return of the Big Wheel, which is 100% made in the U.S.A.

Of course being green and made in the U.S.A wasn’t just for the big companies. The aptly named Green Toys boasts eco-friendly toys that are BPA and phthalate free, and made in the United States.

No matter what type of toy they were promoting, the Toy Fair exhibitors were optimistic about the upcoming year and expressed confidence ahead of the holiday season.

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