RETAIL FOCUS: Play.com

Founded in 1998 by two internet entrepreneurs, Play.com?s initial focus was on DVDs. Ten years later, and the site is the UK?s third most visited online retailer with over seven million customers. And now it?s making its mark in the licensing business in a big way. Samantha Loveday reports...
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Play.com arrived on the scene back when e-commerce was still in its early stages; when buying online was viewed by many as something a little bit risky. Founded by Richard Goulding and Simon Perrée, it quickly made its name within the DVD business and, today, the site has expanded to include books, CDs, mobile phones, consumer electronics, video games and clothing.

And, notably, as the retailer’s inventory has grown, so has its interest in licensed products. Its success within our sector was firmly underlined at Max Publishing’s Licensing Awards back in September, when Play.com walked off two awards: Best Online Retailer and Best Overall Retailer of Licensed Products, an accolade which had previously been the realm of bricks and mortar stores.

So, why all the fuss? Well anyone that has used Play.com will tell you: the site looks attractive and is almost a dream to navigate, the prices are good and the products turn up on time. Simple. And the attraction for licensees and licensors? It is the UK’s third most visited online retailer with in excess of seven million customers. Again, simple.

As well as the main categories, Play.com also hosts a number of ‘stores within the store’ including a dedicated Disney shop, a Sony Tech shop, Dummies shop, one for EA Games and one for HBO. This is something that Play.com is looking to do more of in the future, too, when it’s relevant.

Most successful licensed products for Play.com over the past 12 months have included High School Musical, Star Wars, Clone Wars, In the Night Garden and Ben 10, with The Dark Knight being a particularly hot ticket. Not having to worry about filling physical shelf space, the variety of licences the site offers is wide, and this is certainly a key part of its appeal to licensors and licensees. As Anne-Marie Farrar, category manager for gadgets and film memorabilia, explains to Licensing.biz this means they can easily try out new and untested licensees and get feedback from its customers. Something which stores on the High Street certainly can’t take the risk on at the moment.

“Licences are massively important in buying decisions,” says Farrar. “Play.com is already looking as far ahead as 2012 as far as licences are concerned. The licences affect the design of the site and which campaigns will get put forward, so they have a huge impact.”

Play.com also isn’t afraid to veer slightly from the main track and introduce new things which complement its existing offerings. A good example of this, is its new ticketing service – handily called Play.com Tickets – which gives fans of music, sport and the arts the chance to sell their unwanted tickets or buy ones for a particular event. In true Play.com style, the offer is based around value, with no postage and packaging costs and no commission charged to the buyer.

The customer is clearly king in Play.com’s world and we can be sure that there’s more to come. Since January 2008, an additional 1.3 million customers have registered on Play.com, and the site confidently claims that is the UK’s favourite entertainment retailer. “It looks to provide customers with a 360-degree offering when it comes to entertainment; you can buy the ticker for the gig, download the MP3, buy the t-shirt or the CD,” says Farrar.

And you can’t argue with that.

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