Christmas is on the way (in case you hadn’t noticed) and every eCommerce body in the gift marketplace is gearing up for the biggest revenue-driving period of the year. There is a wealth of information out there for Christmas retailers about leveraging your shop to drive the best revenue for gift buying, but let’s take a look at digital marketing for toy shops specifically (a massively lucrative market at this time of year).

Toy stores often face slightly different challenges to other retailers in that they are marketing primarily to customers with less direct buying power (well, a bit less…insert obligatory “kids these days” joke here). The main aim of toy marketing is not necessarily to convince adults to buy, but to convince children to convince adults to buy. With people becoming digitally-savvy at a younger and younger age, online marketing is no longer a risky proposition for reaching out to the child consumer and can be a major revenue generation avenue. How then are the top toy stores in the UK trying to make contact with children (and their families) this Christmas?

Christmas Toy eCommerce Wish Finder
When buying presents for kids, especially for close family (or the family of close friends) a significant factor is worrying about getting something relevant or at least vaguely appropriate to the child’s interests. That’s before considering the child-illiterate who struggle to even guess at gifts that are for the correct age range. Toys R Us in the US have built a fantastic “wish finder” which covers not only age and gender but also “interest” in a very general sense – everything from “crafty kid” to “princess,” “character fan” and my personal favourite, “pretend player.”

Selecting options for any or all three search components produces a Pinterest-style list of products and special offers related to them which is easy to navigate, attractively presented and superbly easy to use. A shame the UK site doesn’t have any equivalent, only offering the ability to search directly by age and then filter down by category as normal. The US site misses a trick by not optimising the gift finder more thoroughly for search terms around Christmas gifts for kids/children – the page is most optimised for the term “wish finder” which has pretty much zero search volume around it – but they are taking ownership of the tool with its own hashtag  #WishinAccomplished (either supposed to be a whimsical “wishin’ accomplished” or there’s a typo on the page) and the coinciding #NoWishTooBig campaign is clearly putting a brand focus around the idea of “wish lists” for the 2013 holiday season – so “wish finder” might well start attracting volume in coming years.

Christmas Toy eCommerce Wish Finder
On the other side of the pond, UK toy behemoth Hamleys has gone down a far more traditional route by loading their website with Christmas-themed branding, although it is a shame that their social media presence is not easier to get involved with – they’ve gone down the route of having separate Facebook and Twitter profiles for individual stores and selecting a profile option on the links at the bottom of the page lands users on a rather complex-looking and “wordy” page rather than the social platforms themselves.

Given the events the stores regularly run it isn’t impossible to see why this approach has been used, but one can’t help feeling like it could have been pulled off in a slicker way – take for example Selfridges, whose name is most strongly associated with their flagship London store in much the same way as Hamleys, but whose decision to keep single unified social profiles makes it much easier to obtain reach with the entire brand rather than forcing the customer base onto a small number of local hubs at their other stores.

The Hamleys offering is also rather thin on the onsite gift listings front – aside from a relatively rudimentary Toy Finder on the homepage, there are no real sections on gifts or presents, seasonal or other, and no clear brand-orientated holiday focus comparable to the Toys R Us “wish” campaign – although this is less evident on the UK Toys R Us site, it at least offers gift list functionality in the online store which is more than Hamleys does. The Hamleys store is weaker overall in terms of digital, in fact, with a lot of their product content hidden behind “want to know more” style links that aren’t doing them any SEO favours, and many of their landing and product pages lacking fundamental markup components like H1s, content in <p> tags (a common mistake many retailers make – remember to put your product descriptions in <p>s, not just <div>s!) and in many cases decent meta data.

Hamleys eCommerce Product Page
Hamleys has its very strong traditional brand behind it of course, enhanced by the website’s focus on in-store events like the seasonal “meet Father Christmas” message, but everything about the pure eCommerce side of things seems far more focused on form than function. While there are some glaring optimisation issues on the UK Toys R Us side as well – on that stands out is treating all category landing pages like search results with the first H1 on more or less every page being “Results” – they are at least making an effort to make life easier for busy parents and others buying gifts for kids by offering gift lists and running their Santa letter campaign which can be handled online.

The eCommerce offering at Hamleys lacks some of these fundamentals like wishlists and is much more heavily focused on in-store events – perhaps not unreasonable given the history and associations with the brand, but with that impeccable reputation it seems a shame that they haven’t invested more into the digital side to couple the message of a traditional Christmas for kids with modern online convenience to boost their revenue figures as Christmas retailers. It will be interesting to see which approach – embracing the mod cons of digital functionality or relying heavily on pure brand reputation – will end up with the more stuffed stocking this year!

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