Delays at UK ports are having a severe impact on retailers, who are warning that customers might not be able find the same range of products this Christmas as they may have in previous years.
According to two retailers, there is currently a shortage of official Harry Potter merchandise across the country.
“First came Brexit, and then came the pandemic. Because of the combination of the two, the manufacturers became fearful, and production ceased, and they were unable to ship large containers by sea “Elvijs Plugis, co-owner of Charing Cross, London’s fandom-themed collectible shop House of Spells, says.
“A Harry Potter wand used to cost £20, but it will now cost between £35 and £40. All of the stores are out of stock.”
Many of the wands, other official movie replicas, and some of the clothing merchandise are currently unavailable, he claims.
Mr Plugis went on to say that House of Spells is now attempting to focus on other fandoms in addition to Harry Potter, though the company is still acquiring as many licenced Harry Potter-themed product lines as it can find.
“We received calls today at 8 a.m. from the official Platform 9 and 3/4 shop [in Kings Cross Station] referring customers to us because they were out of stock,” he says.
Normally, House of Spells makes a 20-30% profit on each wand sold, but now the shop must pay an additional 25-30% in container shipping costs, as well as up to 30% more in customs fees.
“At the moment, we haven’t raised prices – we don’t know how long that will be possible,” Mr Plugis says.
‘Container prices are up 900%’
The London Toy Company, which imports Harry Potter toys as well as designs its own British-themed toys for well-known brands, has announced that it has sold out of all Harry Potter products.
According to London Toy Company’s director Joel Berkowitz, container prices have increased by 900 percent for the company.
The company now has 35,000 toys worth a quarter of a million pounds held up at ports.
“We’ve had to redirect containers shipping approximately 10,000 toys, which would have gone directly to Felixstowe, to Tilbury Port in London, via France and Belgium,” he says.
“It adds 2.5-3 weeks to the timeframe [of when customers will receive their products].”
The London Toy Company manufactures toys for companies such as the London Underground, JCB, and several military museums throughout the United Kingdom.
Currently, its clients, which include retailers such as Amazon, Audi, Harrods, and Moonpig, are all waiting for toy orders.
“We’re having to absorb as much of the extra costs as we can and take a hit on our margin,” Mr Berkowitz says.
“There’s a ceiling for the products that clients are willing to pay, so we’re putting only a maximum of 10% on top of the cost of the product.”
‘People will not have the choice’
Alan Simpson, managing director of Toytown, a Belfast-based chain of independent retailers, encourages customers to start their Christmas shopping early this year.
“If you want variety, don’t expect to come in December and see what you’d normally see in a toy store,” he tells the BBC.
“I’ve been in business for 42 years, and I can’t recall ever having to deal with issues like the ones we’ve been dealing with.”
He claims that, while Toytown can try to anticipate some of the price increases to help mitigate them, the problem is “all over the place,” affecting many retailers.
Mr Simpson uses a toy construction truck as an example: Shipping from the Far East to the UK will cost 70p in October 2020. Shipping today costs £7.
The truck currently sells for £15, but he claims that the price will need to be raised soon because shipping costs now account for nearly half of the retail price.
“Come January, all suppliers will have to raise prices again, having [already] raised them in June, July, and August this year,” he says, emphasising that there will almost certainly be an impact on inflation.
“They’re feeling it because they get their product from the same places we do.”
‘We are paying a heavy price for poor forecasting’
Other retailers, such as the London-based lighting company Houseof, are also concerned because they rely on products manufactured on the other side of the world.
According to the company, it is now being charged £14,000 per container, which is double the price from last year and seven times the cost before the pandemic.
“Our containers are now being redirected to the northern ports because Southampton, Felixstowe, and London Gateway are all congested with static empty containers,” Houseof co-founder Michael Jones says.
“This significantly raises our road transport costs.”
He went on to say that Houseof had to book road transportation for goods up to five weeks in advance, often before the container even left China.
“With an order taking 60-90 days to produce, we are paying a high price for slow communication and poor forecasting,” he says.
“Orders with retail partners are level with this time last year, but overall stock reserves are much lower, which will have implications as we enter the ‘peak season,'” says the company.