Childhood goes into bankruptcy

Toys ‘R’ Us, Crippled by Competition and Debt, Files for Bankruptcy. This is supposedly restructuring. But do classic toy stores have a future? I know FAO Schwarz closed a few years ago.

Remember video stores? Probably not.


11 thoughts on “Childhood goes into bankruptcy

  1. Perhaps they don’t have much of a future but I really think kids will miss out on the great feeling of walking into a toy store and seeing thousands of toys. Online shopping can’t touch that!

  2. Even before their recent troubles, I’ve never been into a Toys R Us that didn’t have crappy customer service and unmotivated employees. Checking out always takes ages even with hardly anyone in the store. You can tell when you’re at a store where management cares about the customer experience and TRU has never been that. Obviously, Amazon and online in general is a massive headwind but IMO it’s not like they were really trying.

    Have your parenting experiences taken you to TRU much? My wife actually refuses to shop there and makes me take our boys when we do need something from them (like an “urgent” need for more Nerf guns) because of how much she dislikes bad customer experiences.

  3. Have your parenting experiences taken you to TRU much? My wife actually refuses to shop there and makes me take our boys when we do need something from them (like an “urgent” need for more Nerf guns) because of how much she dislikes bad customer experiences.

    haven’t been in one as a parent. so i guess explains why they aren’t doing well 😉 the last time i was in one it seemed kind of sad to me…more like K-mart, than the massive wonderland of toys wall to wall that i remember as a small child.

  4. Bloomberg had a good article on this as well. It appears to mostly be the debt in Toys R’ Us’ case, without which they’d be profitable.

    But in general? I agree, and I think a lot of toy stores are probably doomed. The exceptions will be if they’re super-specialized niche stores for hobbyists (involving customer service), “private label” toys only sold there, and show-rooms for trying out toys that can then be ordered online. The main advantage a place like Toys R’ Us had otherwise is that you could check out toys first and pick them up on short notice, like running to Walmart to get something because you don’t have time to order it off Amazon (or another mega-retailer’s website).

    Remember video stores? Probably not.

    I do! I remember when grocery stores here used to all rent movies for cheaper than Blockbuster and Hollywood Video (although not as cheap as the free library videos). I watched a lot of movies that way.

    My memories of Blockbuster, meanwhile, mostly had to do with video game rentals. That was back when they made the American releases of Nintendo games deliberately harder, so you would rent them longer.

  5. Perhaps they don’t have much of a future but I really think kids will miss out on the great feeling of walking into a toy store and seeing thousands of toys. Online shopping can’t touch that!

    More than that. Kids don’t engage in online shopping, their parents do. Toy stores allowed kids to pick out toys on impulse. Without physical toy stores, there really are only two ways children get introduced to toys – advertisements (which are probably decreasing as well, given so many kids mainly watch shows through ad-free streaming like Netflix) and word of mouth. In any case, of course, the child needs to pester the adult to buy the toy, but the plea is less immediate if it’s on a kid’s “wish list” but they are not in the store demanding it right then and there.

    Given this dynamic, I expect as time goes on we’re going to see the marketing of toys shift further and further away from being focused on children and toward parents. This is basically the situation which exists right now for most toys catered to the under-five set.

  6. I suspect toy stores will survive the retail-pocalype. Its hard for young kids to shop online, and it isn’t as fun as bringing them to a toy store. And the toy selections at Walmart and Target are usually pretty paltry.

    Toys R’Us suffered from poor business decisions, and IIRC, FAO Schwartz was a victim of rising Manhatten real-estate prices, so I’m not sure you can read a general trend regarding the industry from their fates.

  7. In the past five or so years, a hybrid of advertisement and word-of-mouth has arisen: the toy review YouTubers. Instead of ad-free Netflix, my kids (10 and 6) seem more drawn to the likes of EvanTube, Stephen Sharer, FGTeeV, Gun vs Gun, or Guava Juice. And there are dozens more.

    Taking EvanTube as the biggest example: Evan is a young kid. When he was 6 or so, he started making claymation Angry Birds videos and posting them to YouTube. They became popular. Then he started doing toy reviews, unboxing videos, and Lego builds. These became even more popular. Then he started getting toys sent to him for review, and getting asked to appear on regular television. It helps that his dad is a video production professional, so they always had decent equipment and production values, which got better as their YouTube channels became more lucrative. These days, he and his family have several YouTube channels. He’s 11 or 12 now. They get free trips to theme parks and resorts, which they make videos about. His parents quit their day jobs and their family makes all of its income from the YouTube channels. He has 4,500,000 subscribers and many of his videos get millions of views.

    One notable thing is that while conventional media had some sense of a wall between editorial and advertising divisions, YouTubers like EvanTube do not. Disclosure of who paid for what, or whether he truly likes a toy or is just being paid to say how awesome it is, is completely on the honor system.

    My younger son has a list of about a dozen Nerf guns he wants for Christmas. He knows far more about the various models than he’d ever get by browsing in a toy store or watching 30-second ads. It’s all largely from the Gun vs Gun videos. (Which I probably shouldn’t approve of, but it’s also exhausting to vet YouTube channels.)

  8. thm,

    It sounds like your kids have much more access to the internet than my children do. My daughter just turned eight, and my wife has been pretty adamant that she cannot have access to her own tablet. My daughter knows how to play the games I have installed on my tablet. She also has a Kano computer that we’ve bought her to try and teach her some basic computer literacy (and hopefully coding skills eventually) but she’s held back from doing much yet because she’s still at the “hunt and peck” point in typing (plus the “games” honestly aren’t that much fun). She’s played around a bit on the websites for PBSkids and Nick in the past, but I can say with some certitude she’s never just looked for content on Youtube by herself. Nor has she shown much interest in it, quite honestly.

    My son just turned four, and as of yet doesn’t even have the skill level to play mobile games (other than virtual puzzles, which he absolutely loves and is great at). He’s very advanced for his age in terms of cognitive development so far, but it’s very hard for me to imagine him having his own youtube watch list in two years. Is your younger son exposed to this stuff through your older son?

  9. I remember the toy guns section of Toys R Us being a bloody mess when I frequented the joint back in the 80s. You’d grab one, run up and down the aisle with it playing shoot out, then discard it. It was disorderly – a bit like a Walmart I suppose – but in the best way. And of course the shelves stocked with Nintendo games. You’d grab a tag for Contra, Punch-Out or Kid Icarus and take it to a special window to make the actual purchase. In retrospect I suppose that was to prevent theft.

  10. When my oldest was born Toys ‘r Us and Amazon had a mutual exclusivity arrangement, so one couldn’t go to Amazon to find toy alternatives to Toys ‘r Us, you just found its online version. It looks like that was a ten year arrangement that began in 2000 and at some point in time (2004?) Amazon breached the deal and was successfully sued.

    I don’t know that we went to Toys ‘r Us a lot, but it was where we got most of their car seats, and their first bikes. But we probably took them to video stores longer than most also; we tended to like to take kids places and let them see things and pick out things they like.

  11. A friend of the family gave a couple of my children gift cards to Toys “R” Us recently (prior to the bankruptcy announcement), so I took them there for the first time in their lives (the last time I was in one way probably more than a decade ago perhaps even two decades ago).

    It didn’t impress those two children at all. The selection was small and the quality seemed pretty poor in general. Everything looked pretty flimsy.

    The store also appeared to be sparsely patronized. Even though it is located in an area that is 80% white and 15% Asian, while blacks and Hispanics combined are under 3%, almost all the clientele at this branch of Toys “R” Us was black and Hispanic… as was the staff.

    It just looked… worn down and sad.

    My seven year-old girl wasn’t all that enthused with anything there. But, she probably wasn’t going to be impressed by any toys since she received this recently for a birthday gift:

    I put a bipod on it and added a red-dot sight (FastFire), and she couldn’t wipe the grin off of her face after shooting it about 200 times.


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