This month Mystery Shopper visits retailers in ToyNews’ home county of Hertfordshire. It’s half term week and the search is on for a doll for a girl aged seven. Maximum spend is £20. So, who came out top..?
JUST LIKE TK Maxx’s clothing offering, its ample toy section boasts a wide array of product from the top, desirable brands which aren’t the latest up-to-date items, but are still relatively new. However, also like TK Maxx’s clothing offering, the presentation of product is messy and unorganised. Boxes are upside down, on their side or placed in the wrong sections and the packaging is often tatty and dog-eared. Some items are even shackled with cable ties and alarm security tags. The toys are sectioned into pre- school, boys, girls, outdoor and games and puzzles. However, the labelled sections
are not exactly representative of what is actually in them.
THE MALTINGS, ST ALBANS
For example, 90 per cent of the games and puzzles section is actually kids’ books. Time to test out TK Maxx’s customer service. I approach a girl reorganising a rack of clothes and ask, somewhat embarrassedly (as I imagine the staff’s toy knowledge is not regularly tested), where I should look for a girls doll? With a puzzled look and a knitting of her eyebrows, she refers me back to the toy section from where I came, her expression saying ‘try the toy section, duh?’ Verdict: TK Maxx is what it is, a place for people to get some bargains. Although it’s not a great experience it is good to see another major retailer stocking toys.
THE TOY SHOP
THROUGHOUT THE year, Hatfield House is host to country fairs, farmers’ markets and the like, guaranteeing footfall for the parade of independent shops which The Toy Shop belongs to. When I visited there was a
children’s book reading. The shelves are home to exactly the type of merchandise you’d expect to appeal to visitors of a country fair, with things like arts and craft sets, toy bow and arrows and fairytale-themed role play outfits. As I explain to the girl on the counter what I am looking for, she informs me that today is actually her first day on the job. Despite this, she is already familiar enough with the shop’s product range to confidently tell me that there is only one doll product on sale and shows me some
plush, rag doll-like creations in various different designs. To put her to the test, I feign an
unimpressed look and she is quick to recognise this and make some other suggestions. As she’s doing this, the shop’s owner returns and gets involved. “Unfortunately we don’t have many dolls as we try to focus on wooden and traditional toys here.” And she’s right. I imagine a line- up of fashion dolls would look a little out of place alongside the well chosen range of wooden toys, children’s books and quaint lower price point items. Verdict: This charming toy shop is just the ticket for visitors to this gorgeous country house.