With consumers showing more confidence in online shopping, isn't now the time for licensors to dip a toe in the water and see what it feels like to sell directly to the consumer?
The incentive to licensees is clear: a new channel of distribution and a track record of likely sales. Entertainment Rights recently added the Postman Pat shop to its well-established Postman Pat official website and is also impressed by the early results. Rob Wijeratna, Pat's brand manager, says it's crucial to have a site for the brand these days, where children can interact with the brand, find games and so on. 'There's also news for parents and information about appearences and educational elements. So it's logical to also have a shop, as long as it is safe and you can't get re-routed elsewhere on the internet.' Initially, core items such as Postman Pat toys, books and DVDs appear, but these will be supplemented throughout the year until it eventually offers the definitive range of Pat products. Through Digital Stores, the company that built and runs the online shop, ER has been able to ensure that once in the site, children cannot get out of it to roam the internet - a key safety concern for all children's sites, but particularly for pre-school.
In an age when consumers do expect to research and arm themselves with information about range and price, in order to save time and money, it's a wonder that there aren't more official character merchandise stores on line already. But as Sally Dickson says, 'It hasn't really been an option until recently. Technology and consumer behaviour have come together and now, it fits with the pattern of modern living.'
However, licensors have their own retail priorities and this is, after all, where most of the money is made. Most agree that brand-specific online stores don't yet make a significant contribution financially. The volumes are small, compared to other market sectors. But they are complementary and growing. Sally says, 'every month you exist, the more profitable you are. So be patient.'
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