This week we have a follow-up on what has turned into one of the most disappointing stories of the year in the toy industry. We covered the fall of Toys R Us all through the year last year, and we should be used to disappointments after last year’s “revival” turned out to be cardboard dumps full of generic toys in Kroger. But after a huge build up, this week’s news has turned out to be another football yanked away as we were about to kick it.
This week Toys R Us unveiled their new website, which was highly-anticipated as the key to re-establishing the embattled toy seller as a force to be reckoned with at retail.
That didn’t exactly happen. TruKids opened their new website Tuesday, but it’s lacking one important component for a successful e-commerce website.
You can’t buy toys from it.
Instead, the new Toys R Us website consists of images and descriptions of toys, and when you click to buy one…you are redirected to Target.com.
Target is fulfilling all the orders placed through Toys R Us. Reportedly they’re also responsible for stocking the two retail stores which are expected to open soon. Target is really excited about this, but nobody else is.
Toys R Us, which existed for the sole purpose of selling toys, is attempting to get back in the toy business without actually selling any toys. I’m sure they’ll get a teensy commission on each sale made through their website or stores, but they aren’t investing a penny into inventory, and are not absorbing any costs associated with shipping, handling or taxes.
This is a huge letdown. The whole point of seeing Toys R Us return was that they’d have a different set of toy buyers and stock different inventory than other retailers. That is not the case. With this set-up, they’re just lending their name to Target in a pointless execise of branding that doesn’t help toy makers or consumers one bit.
I don’t mean to knock Target. They have a perfectly fine toy department. In fact, I go to their website and stores all the time.
So I don’t really need for Toys R Us to be a clone that only offers a small assortment of what Target has for sale.
This will not change the retail landscape for toys at all. It does not open up any opportunity for new toymakers, and it doesn’t offer consumers any additional options or choices. With no independent toy buyers picking new toys for Toys R Us, we have less diversity and less choice in the marketplace.
I have to wonder if this was the plan all along, or if it’s only a stopgap measure, or “Plan B” that came about after the idea of actually financing a retail start-up became too daunting. If this was the plan all along, why didn’t they just sell the trademarks to Target in the first place?
Essentially the end result would be the same. With the Kay Bee Toys revival apparently also a non-starter, this means that the toy retail world will be dominated even more by Walmart, Amazon and Target, with other retailers scrambling for the remaining twenty to thirty percent of the market not contolled by those three.
I don’t see consumers flocking to the new Toys R Us website. When people go to a website they want to buy stuff. They don’t want to be redirected to another company’s website, where the item they want might not be in stock.
The folks in charge now at the new corprate parent, TruKids, seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what made Toys R Us so appealing in the first place. Nobody went to Toys R Us for the “experience.” They went there to buy toys. Toys R Us was a toy-seller.
TruKids is also teaming up with Candytopia to create “Pop Up Experiences,” starting in Chicago and Atlanta. Dubbed “The Toys R Us Adventure,” the experiential pop-ups feature more than a dozen interactive play rooms, larger-than-life toys, and installations featuring Geoffrey, the brand’s giraffe mascot. However, you won’t be able to buy any toys there. It’s basically a fancy version of one of those bouncy-house places you see in malls.
“The Toys R Us brand was built upon celebrating the joys of childhood and we are thrilled to partner with the creatives behind Candytopia to introduce an exciting new way to play for guests of all ages,” Tru Kids CEO Richard Barry said in a press release.
Eliminating selling toys from the company mission reminds me of the community theater director a few decades back who said of his production of Jesus Christ Superstar that, “We’re going to play down the religious aspects of it.”
The folks in charge have completely missed the point of what Toys R Us should be. It should be a giant, sterile warehouse, filled with any toy any kid could possibly want. It was never part of the “Toys R Us Experience” to have well-informed sales associates who helped you with your purchase. You were lucky if they could tell you what aisle you could search to find the toy you wanted.
That was the fun…actually shopping, seeing things you didn’t know about and experiencing the joy of finally finding what you wanted. The whole idea that you could get lost and wander around the store looking for what you wanted was the real “experience.” It was the adventure of shopping. Most people know exactly what they want when they go to a toy store. That wasn’t a major issue that brought about the downfall of Toys R Us.
The two retail stores that TRU plans to open (concept sketch at left) will just be tiny showrooms, maybe with space for a hundred or so toys, and “demonstrators” who will tell you how great those toys are, because they’re being paid by the toy makers to convince you to order the toy from Target. Of course, this arrangment, where the toy companies pay for the space and pay for the sales associates and Target handles everything else only works if the idea is to keep the Toys R Us brand alive without spending a penny of their own money on it.
My prediction is that consumers will soundly reject this concept, and the TRU trademarks will be quietly sold to someone else (with Target being the front-runner) after the Christmas sales are calculated early next year.
It’s really sad to see things turn out this way. I was hoping for a stellar return to greatness for Toys R Us this holiday season. This news is like opening that big box under the tree, only to find socks and underwear.
That’s this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for all our regular features.