With schools shut and online classes on in full swing, stationery products are finding fewer takers. The pandemic has also adversely affected other categories closely associated with children’s activities, such as such toys, games and hobby products. Categorised as non-essentials, toys and stationery products have registered a sharp decline in sales over the last six months.
Industry watchers say that after a washout in the months of April and May, a revival has begun. Both these categories are said to be clocking about 60% sales as that of the same period in the last year. As per Euromonitor International, the toys and games industry in India was worth Rs 10,557 crore in 2019. The stationery industry was expected to rake in about $1.7 billion in sales in 2020 (pre-Covid estimates), according to Statista.
Faber-Castell and ITC’s education and stationery business are among those that went through a long dry spell due to the deferment of new academic sessions. Toy manufacturer Funskool, which had anticipated peak sales during the summer season, was stuck with unsold inventory when the country went into lockdown. For both toys and stationery products, the summer months are crucial. Partho Chakrabarti, MD, Faber-Castell, India, says that almost 50% of the company’s sales can be attributed to this season. While for toys, the upcoming festive season, too, is a significant opportunity.
Around the world, the pandemic encouraged people confined to their homes to purchase board games, puzzles, hobby kits and art supplies online. In India, however, this was not possible during the first few months of the lockdown. “Even when e-commerce resumed in India, toy sales did not begin immediately, as toys and games are not classified as essentials,” says R Jeswant, CEO, Funskool.
Both ITC and Faber-Castell overcame the distribution challenge by partnering with Swiggy Genie and going direct-to-consumer. ITC has also activated its own e-commerce channel. Once the e-commerce players started delivering toys and stationery products, companies like Funskool and Faber-Castell saw a spike in online orders. For instance, Funskool’s e-commerce sales have gone up from 15-20% of total sales pre-Covid to 40-45% in the last couple of months.
The pandemic has driven companies to develop products that address need gaps in the market. Funskool, for example, has introduced a new product called Activity Table, which Jeswant says, “is like a child’s workstation”. Faber-Castell has launched an art and craft kit called My Creative Buddy.
ITC’s Vikas Gupta, chief executive, education and stationery products business, says the company introduced smaller pack sizes to stimulate purchase. ITC expects that once school sessions resume, products such as 3D books and poster notebooks that were launched before the lockdown will gain traction.
No reason to splurge
Footfall in malls and high streets remains far below pre-Covid levels. “Impulse buying is critical to offline sales in our category. As children are not accompanying parents, impulse purchases have been hit; stores are reporting only 30-40% of pre-Covid level sales,” says Jeswant.
With no store displays to entice consumers into making impulse purchases, Chakrabarti’s bet is on consumers knowing what they want and ordering those online or from their local shops.
Moreover, Devangshu Dutta, chief executive, Third Eyesight, says the perception that toys are an indulgence make them a discretionary purchase. Therefore, the revival of toy sales will be harder in a recession.
Toy companies are anticipating higher sales during the festive season. But Rehan Dhorajiwala, spokesperson, All India Toys Federation, isn’t as hopeful. “Toys are exchanged for festivals among family members when they meet each other. With such meet-ups on hold, we do not expect a huge revival,” he says.
Lack of fresh products is also impacting demand. Film and comic merchandise elicit significant interest among children, but they have been largely absent. “Since the entertainment industry has been inactive, there have been no new launches of superhero movies or character-themed products for the last few months,” says Dhorajiwala.
Consumers are opting for cheaper alternatives of stationery products and postponing purchases until schools reopen. The toys category, meanwhile, is dealing with a shortage in supply, as Chinese toys account for nearly 80-90% of India’s toy market. The regulatory hurdles with BIS certification could further shrink the toys market in India.