The Loss of a Toy Story

April 2, 2018

It’s not the death of retail, but it is a wake-up call.  

I am sure we have all spoken about the unfortunate demise of Toys “R” US in the last couple of weeks. It is a personal story for everyone having either visited a store as a child or with your child.  

Visiting Toys “R” US was a total treat. Remember perusing the seemingly endless aisles with your Mom, Dad and siblings? An entire warehouse filled with bikes, Legos, books, games, dolls, cars, oh my!  Remember humming the jingle – “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us kid” – and enthusiastically waving to Geoffrey the Giraffe? Talk about customer experience!

Can this be adequately replaced by the two or three toy aisles in Walmart or Target? I think not. Is this just one more example of the demise of retail? Again, I think not.  

I do believe, however, the end of Toys “R” US is the story of a toy company that did not adjust and adapt to the changing retail landscape. They needed to capitalize on the emotional aspect of buying toys, they needed to capitalize on the fact that they were experts in all things toys, and they needed to remain competitive with price points so the in-store experience would trump all things e-commerce.

The fact of the matter is this: Toys “R” Us led the toy retail world for nearly 60 years. Their late founder, Charles P. Lazarus, was a visionary who truly understood a child’s mind. The experience he created for children for all those years can never be duplicated by Amazon. Can the prices be beat? Sure. But the emotional connection will never be the same.

So, what is it about a customer’s experience that makes it so crucial for brick-and-mortars to survive? It really does seem to be the one differentiating factor for “survival of the fittest” in this sense.

For those stores left standing, (and there are quite few – I’ve been following what the new Nordstrom’s Men’s Store is doing in NYC) I would take a page out of their playbook to reinvent and evolve what is next for the relationship between consumer and retailer.