Toy Store Experiences: Nostalgia and Innovation Appeal to Shoppers this Holiday Season

December 7, 2018 Sarah Cavill

The shuttering of Toys R Us, after more than a decade of speculation and struggle, was sad for many consumers whose feelings of nostalgia for Geoffrey the Giraffe and being a “Toys R Us Kid” kept them loyal shoppers of the brick and mortar toy store. Where will they go now? Approximately $26.5 billion is spent per year on toys, so clearly there is a need to be met. Prior to Toys R Us closing their stores, Amazon and Target were winning the pricing wars, but not necessarily capturing that nostalgic, special feeling many shoppers enjoy at toy stores during the holidays.

The Big Box Stores Are Changing the Holiday Toy Shopping Experience

While Toys R Us offered experiential shopping for loyal customers propelled by memories and prior shopping habits, the retailer’s lack of innovation may have been part of their downfall. A toy store can be a destination — not just another stop on the holiday to do list. This year, retailers are attempting to create that experience in a variety of ways.

Amazon Releases Its First Ever Toy Catalog

Nostalgia 101. The catalog. Many older generations fondly recall curling up with toy catalogs that flooded mailboxes in December, circling the items they wanted from Santa. Amazon’s release of a 68-page, full-color catalog captures that vintage vibe while still staying true to the Amazon brand. The catalog is equipped with quick response (QR) codes for “one click” shopping and an online version that links directly to the purchase page.

Catalogs remain popular for shoppers looking for deals at Christmas, and they serve as branding tools for businesses. A multi-channel marketing strategy that includes direct mail is in line with Amazon’s full-on approach to grabbing market share. The catalogs were mailed to U.S. households and available at Amazon-owned Whole Foods stores.

Target toys holiday shopping lego

Target Offers Family Friendly Events and Exclusivity for Shoppers

After a favorable 2017 holiday season, Target is looking to continue growing their retail experience this year with family-focused changes kids and parents should enjoy. Target is hosting 25,000 hours of in-store events for families nationwide, and they are expanding or remodeling their toy departments in nearly 600 stores. They will offer 2,500 new and original toys this year, understanding that exclusivity is a smart marketing move in a crowded market.

Walmart — Nearly as Popular as Amazon with Toy Buyers

Walmart captured 31% of ex-Toys R Us shoppers, coming in just shy of Amazon’s 34%. In a move similar to Target, Walmart will expand their inventory and freshen up their toy section. In August, they announced the creation of America’s Best Toy Shop, their newly branded, bigger and better toy department, with original toy brands only available at Walmart.

The Walmart Toy Lab is an online interaction that allows kids to virtually test up to 20 of the retailer’s top toys and then conveniently add them to their wish lists. This broader reach with digital at Walmart includes a recent website redesign which streamlined the shopping experience, offering personalization and geo-targeting.

Ebay, Party City, FAO Schwarz and Other Retailers Vie for Piece of the Toy Market

Many retailers are betting on toys this year. This crowded landscape presents an opportunity for businesses to set themselves apart from competitors and try new marketing approaches. One big idea? Pop-ups.

  • Party City opened 50 locations of Toy City in their Halloween City locations. Similar to the Halloween models, these spots are no-frills, high-volume stores that carry popular items in easy-errand locations.
  • Ebay is trying a more high-end vibe, appealing to the nostalgia of buyers (parents!) and hands-on fun for kids. Their recent pop-up in New York’s Chelsea Market allowed kids the chance to try out a range of toys and served to complement Ebay’s catalog, the eBay Toy Book. The Toy Book highlights pricey, vintage items available on eBay, like Transformers from the 1980s. The book also offers the current-day $19.99 Transformer, creating a unique niche shopping opportunity only eBay can offer.

FAO schwarz holiday gift guide

  • The recent revival of FAO Schwarz as a brick and mortar store in the heart of New York City illustrates how much buyers still want special, once- in-a-lifetime toy store memories. The beloved toy retailer also has pop-ups in Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and other retailers for the second holiday season in a row.
  • Build A Bear, in a co-branding effort with Bass Pro and Cabela’s has pop-up locations in stores across the country. These shops are integrated into the outdoor store’s Santa’s Wonderland display and include Bass Pro bears and outfits in their SKUs.

Small Businesses Offer Personalized, High-End Toy Shopping

Small Business Saturday was started in 2010, and customers have since reported spending an estimated $85 billion dollars at local and neighborhood stores. For one day a year, that’s an impressive take. There are 3,500 neighborhood toy stores across the country and, for curation of experience, they have few competitors.

American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA)

The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) says “the unparalleled experience of discovering new and unique toys and games in a friendly, hands-on setting will appeal to parents tired of wandering through warehouses or scrolling through websites in search of that perfect toy.” The charm of a small toy store, often with custom gift wrapping, story time, specialty gifts and other customer service perks that can’t be scaled to big box stores, gives independent boutique retailers a niche all their own.

Another small business story this holiday season is the resurrection of local bookstores after near-decimation 10 years ago. Their numbers have since stabilized and even seen a 5% uptick in sales over the past year. Books are often on many kids’ wish lists, and small, independent retailers are organizing holiday events for kids, holiday book drives that benefit local children’s charities, pop ups to expand awareness of businesses and other marketing strategies to draw in curious families and holiday sales.

Whether big box stores, online superstores, holiday pop ups or small boutiques, toy shoppers have many options this holiday season as retailers increase their competitive edges in a busy and growing market.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

Sarah Cavill is a Marketing Communications Writer at Digital Media Solutions (DMS), the fastest growing independent agency focused on performance marketing. Since its inception, DMS has evolved into a full-service performance marketing company that services firms within highly complex and competitive industries including mortgage, education, insurance, consumer brands, automotive, jobs and careers. DMS has achieved incredible year-over-year growth, which has earned recognition on the Inc. 5000 list in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

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