Re­tail­ers fill­ing void left by Toys R Us

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BEAT - As­so­ci­ated press

When Toys R Us closed its doors, cus­tomers mourned the loss of a beloved brand that con­jured mem­o­ries of their own child­hoods.

Re­tail­ers, on the other hand, saw an op­por­tu­nity.

Rather than cede any more ground to on­line be­he­moth Ama­zon, com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Tar­get, Wal­mart and Party City ramped up their of­fer­ings.

Now, ahead of the piv­otal hol­i­day sea­son, they’re go­ing even fur­ther by fo­cus­ing on mak­ing their stores a dynamic shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence. That means cre­at­ing play ar­eas for kids, of­fer­ing demos of new toys and stag­ing events like scav­enger hunts in the stores.

Re­tail­ers are try­ing to grab a piece of the nearly $3 bil­lion left on the ta­ble by Toys R Us, or 12% of the U.S. toy mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to NPD Group Inc., a mar­ket re­search group.

Last month, Party City opened 50 Toy City pop-up shops that fea­ture 6-by-8foot Lego di­nosaurs and other in­ter­ac­tive dis­plays. Wal­mart says 30% of its hol­i­day toy as­sort­ment will be new. It will also of­fer 40% more toys on Wal­mart.com com­pared with a year ago.

In Novem­ber and De­cem­ber, the com­pany’s toy area will be re­branded as Amer­ica’s Best Toy Shop.

Start­ing in late Oc­to­ber, Tar­get will de­vote ex­tra space at 500 stores near for­mer Toys R Us stores for big­ger toys such as elec­tric cars, play­houses and mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, as well as adding nearly 200 more prod­ucts. And 100 Tar­get stores will see new lay­outs and fix­tures in the toy area.

The com­pany is also ex­pand­ing the num­ber of kids events it hosts. Most re­cently, it had a Lego Minecraft event that fea­tured a scav­enger hunt.

Mean­while, Ama­zon is re­port­edly plan­ning a toy cat­a­log to be dis­trib­uted at its Whole Foods stores. The com­pany de­clined to com­ment on the cat­a­log, but an­a­lysts say Ama­zon could ex­pand its mar­ket share in toys from 15% to 20% this year.

Toy sell­ers had been long tak­ing ad­van­tage of Toys R Us’ woes but stepped up their ef­forts when the chain filed Chap­ter 11 bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion in the fall of 2017 and ac­cel­er­ated the pace when the chain an­nounced it was liq­ui­dat­ing its op­er­a­tions in March.

Early this year, Toys R Us had more than 800 U.S. stores. It closed the last 200 stores at the end of June.

With re­ports of the re­tailer’s demise, there was an out­pour­ing of nos­tal­gia from shop­pers, and some an­a­lysts credit that em­pa­thy for help­ing to drive an uptick in toy sales for the first half of the year.

U.S. toy sales from Jan­uary through June in­creased 7% to $7.9 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to NPD.

Last year, toy sales in­creased 1% to $20.7 bil­lion from 2016.

Richard Drew As­so­ci­ated Press

A TOD­DLER plays at a Wal­mart Toy Shop event in New York. The com­pany will re­brand its toy area as Amer­ica’s Best Toy Shop in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber.

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