As children worldwide begin their Christmas lists, soon to unfurl them scroll-style at the feet of their already tired parents, it’s worth asking: In a post Toys“R”Us (TRU) landscape, where are parents shopping for toys these days? The answer is everywhere. Certainly, many parents are turning to online options, but shoppers are also relying on smaller retailers, trusty big box stores and direct-to-consumer (DTC) options.
Online Toy Shopping Is Very Strong And Growing
When it comes to buying toys, whether for the holidays or the countless birthday parties kids are invited to, the convenience of online knows few rivals — even with the rise of buy online pay in store (BOPIS), door-to-door delivery is hard to beat. Online toy sales in the U.S. have grown 55% in the last several years and total more than $17 billion. As a result, even in-store sales are often motivated by online browsing, which further illustrates how powerful digital channels are in the toy market. Amazon experienced 30% year-over-year (YOY) growth in holiday toys sales in 2018.
Direct To Consumer Is Popular For Niche Items
LEGO is among several niche toy brands adding DTC options to their revenue strategies. By offering a vast selection of items through DTC channels, LEGO can scale sales through all interest levels and offer unique items that aren’t available on Amazon or in stores. Mattel and Hasbro have launched ecommerce sites and membership programs for toy shoppers that want exclusive access to certain toys or promotions.
Boutique Toy Stores And Book Sellers Offer Something Special
One of the more interesting aspects of big box store fatigue, is the resurgence of boutique toy stores and independent bookstores, which many prognosticators said would be gone with the rise of Walmart and Amazon. Smaller, independent stores are able to offer very personalized customer service, interactive in-store experiences geared at little ones and the nostalgia factor that is often meaningful for a lot of Generation X shoppers. Plus, the closing of TRU has driven more shoppers to small, neighborhood stores. “I never really felt like I competed with Toys R Us; we are more of a community store,” said Louise Simon, the Owner of Toy Space in New York. “Now, for the first time, I am carrying some mass market items like Shopkins and Cabbage Patch Kids dolls.”
Independent bookstores are also branching out to carry toys. While not a new idea – 31% of Barnes & Noble’s total revenue last year was non-book items including toys and games – the relationship between book sellers and toy sellers is growing and is possibly a response to the toy-buying gap in a post TRU landscape. “More toy store owners are also starting to carry books, and more bookstore owners are starting to carry toys. Toy retailers are beginning to carry more hobby and gift kinds of products. There’s a lot of diversification going on,” said Kimberly Mosley, President of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA).
A multichannel approach that includes a store website, in-store pick-up and targeted promotions are also a part of keeping independent retailers successful.
Big Box Stores Like Target And Walmart Are Popular Choices For Toy Shopping
Target and Walmart are major players in the toy market, particularly with recent renovations making the stores brighter and more shoppable with “boutiques” within the larger stores designed to highlight toys, books and other retail sectors. Both big box retailers have been aggressive in trying to secure previous TRU customers. According to Business Insider, as of September 2018, Walmart is “expanding its selection [of toys] by 40% online. 30% of the toys it's stocking in stores will be brand new. Walmart will also make room for more toys in stores, and in some locations, it will even be adding more aisles to stock them.”
Target has gotten a jump on this year’s holiday shopping by partnering with the new Toys“R”Us, which is reinventing itself as a brand with a website that serves as a resource for parents who need toy information. But, when they’re ready to buy, shoppers will be diverted to Target to make the final purchases. The toy selling relationship is clearly a good idea for Target, and the chatter is that with the upcoming launch of a few TRU brick and mortars, it could be a good way for TRU to rebuild consumer trust and engagement.
The Target press release about the partnership explains, “Target.com will also power online sales in new Toys“R”Us experiential retail stores that will launch later this fall in Houston, Texas and Paramus, New Jersey. The stores are designed to showcase new products out of the box, and create memorable experiences for kids and families that allow for in-person product discovery. Guests interested in purchasing items not available in store will interact with sales associates who will assist them in completing sales transactions that will be fulfilled through Target.com.”
As with so much retail right now, toy buyers are spread across channels, likely using different options for different reasons — from convenience to tracking down a specifically requested toy. Marketers approach to capturing the attention of parents (and, let’s be real, kids) should follow similar multichannel paths, offering optimized strategies across digital platforms.