Tips for complaining

Let toy retailers know what you think of their displays.

First of all, it’s always worth just pointing out that really, in this day and age it’s not on to label toys by gender. We’ve had quite a few supporters have told us that retailers have made changes just after simply asking a question about it. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

If a quick, polite chat in person isn’t for you, or the retailer is online, you can make your comment by tweeting, leaving a message on their Facebook page or by sending an email.  You can even go old-skool and write them a letter!  Either way, every bit of pressure helps.

So release your Inner Complainer by following these tips:

  • Gather the facts.  State the date and branch of your visit.  This will help as not all branches follow the same policy.  Send in a photo if you were able to take one.
  • Let them know if they’ve lost your business. Tell them what you were going to buy, and for whom, before you came across their signage, and let them know if you were so disappointed you went elsewhere.
  • Tell them WHY it annoys you.  They need to know that these signs are harmful because they have an effect on our kids and what they think people expect of them.   Why should your son feel embarrassed when he picks out an Arts and Crafts kit? Why should you daughter be made to feel as if she’s not a “normal girl” because she has to go to the boys’ aisle to pick her favourite toy?  Here are some points about why we think it matters.
  • Expect to receive a “fobbing off” response.  Chances are they’ll send you a polite reply along the lines of “We value all customer feedback and will bear your comments in mind”.  Don’t accept it! Write back to demand specifics and make sure they know they’re not getting any custom from you until they change their policy.

We encourage you to make your own complaints to toy retailers but if your writing juices aren’t flowing then here is a Template Complaint letter to adapt to your personal circumstances.


  1. Joanna Beckett

    I discovered today that a range of named Thomas the Tank Engine merchandise such as bookmarks and stickers only seems to be stocked in boys names. I can’t seem to find the manufacturer contact details – Is it worth complaining to the shop? It’s not their fault.

    • Yes, a shame if you have a small female Thomas fan! The shop is probably the best place to start – you don’t have to frame it as a complaint necessarily, just point out that you might have bought one and maybe ask for the supplier’s contact details to follow up directly. Retailers will feed back customer comments to manufacturers, so it’s always worth raising the issue.

    • Jacob

      Funnily enough, I just sent an e-mail to Mattel (who own the brand) making this complaint. I referred to parts of this site but I hadn’t read this comment before I started.

      My two-year-old daughter is somewhat obsessed with Thomas (and trains in general) and it is very disappointing that we don’t have the choice of merchandise because what exists tends to refer explicitly to boys.

      The marketing is also very boy-centric. For example, on the official website, almost every photograph is of a boy:

      At least the toys themselves are fairly gender-neutral. The Brio set is probably her favourite toy.

  2. Mary

    I wonder if you include charity shops, and if so any tips for approaching them? In my local Marie Curie there is a blue 50p bucket labelled ‘boys’ (contains cars & scary monsters) and a pink 50p bucket labelled ‘girls’ (contains dolls & sparkly things, etc.). But it’s run by such kind old ladies – I can’t bring myself to take it up with them!

    • Ida

      Hi Mary

      Talk to the charity themselves, they have ultimate control of any marketing or layout strategy and will want the feedback. I think particularly a charity like Marie Curie founded by a woman of science will be open to sorting it out!


      • Alex

        I agree with you, Ida. Having worked in a charity shop the marketing stuff all comes from the central office/ warehouse, so they’re the people to target!
        Simple answer is that these ladies probably think nothing of it. The reality is it’s a norm for most.
        They might be open to having a section simply labelled “toys”. I was with the British Heart Foundation, and it seemed to work fine there.

  3. Sarah

    I have just discovered that the Paw Patrol toys have a ‘light and sounds’ deluxe vehicle for each character except for Skye (the only female character, but don’t get me started on that!). I am so cross! It’s just unbelievable in this day and age that we even have to have these discussions.
    Do you think I would be better to contact the manufacturer direct, or to e-mail the big retailers to get them to contact the manufacturer directly? Or both? Are there any other channels I can go through?
    Many thanks for your help, what a fantastic group you are!

    • Hi Sarah, yes it’s an issue we see over and over again – female characters being left out of licensed merchandise and toys. Paw Patrol seems to be one of the worst offenders – we’ve collected some #wheresskye examples here:

      We’d suggest contacting the manufacturer, but it’s definitely worth raising it with the store too, as their feedback on consumers’ concerns will influence manufacturers too.

      Thanks so much for your support.

    • Ida


      That’s so annoying! It’s really common for female characters to be overlooked or even replaced in favour of male (Star Wars!). Why not write to the shop, manufacturer, and Nickelodeon?


  4. Katharina

    It’s not just toys! Was browsing online for some cake decorations for my daughter’s birthday cake – she has chosen a pirate theme. Was pretty shocked when the website (a UK based shop) split the decorations into categories of ‘boys themes’ and ‘girls themes’, along the most stereotypical lines imaginable. Needless to say, only boys get pirates, trucks or superheroes, but the girls have Disney princesses galore! I’ll definitley not order anything from them and have send a message on their contact form – let’s see if they reply.
    (They also split the adults into ‘men’ and ‘ladies’. Apparently as a woman I won’t be into music but can delight myself with a category of ‘needlework and sewing’!)
    (Sorry for going slightly off topic – was just so annoyed by their website.)

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