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Enhanced departments, omnichannel crucial to Toys ‘R’ Us holiday plans

BY Marianne Wilson

Wayne, N.J. — Toys “R” Us is updating its in-store shopping experience and expanding its omnichannel initiatives for its more important selling season. The retailer detailed its plans on Thursday at a special holiday preview event in New York City.

Starting in October, Toys “R” Us will expand and enhance product categories that have experienced sales growth over the past few years, notably education, tablets and construction, while reducing the space dedicated to areas that have underperformed over time.

New features will include a dedicated Imaginarium shop, a dedicated 32-ft. shop that will showcase 25 tablets that can be tested and engaged with by kids and parents, and a dedicated construction shop that will showcase Lego, Mega Bloks and other major brands.

Speaking at the event, Toys “R” Us executive VP and chief merchandising officer Richard Barry addressed the effect of the uncertain economic environment and impact of the multi-year decline in birth rates on the toy industry, as well as the declines in select businesses, such as video games and electronics. He said the company’s merchandising strategy will continue to center heavily on differentiation and breadth of assortment, while simultaneously introducing new product categories and expanding growth areas.

“Our unmatched product differentiation, unique services and value offerings continue to set us apart, and we look forward to unveiling new and exciting initiatives throughout the holiday season that consumers will appreciate,” Barry said.

On the omnichannel front, Toys “R” Us said it plans to continue to leverage its $1.1 billion e-commerce operation and vast store network to enable customers to shop with it wherever, whenever and however they choose. To that end, the chain is shortening the wait time for “Buy Online, Pickup In Store” orders from three hours to under one, and improving the pick-up time for “Ship to Store” orders, from seven to 14 days to five to 10. Stores will be equipped with a secondary in-store pickup location later this fall, as the company is enabling Wish List kiosks with check-in technology, making the process faster and easier for customers.

The retailer also is offering free layaway through Dec. 15, with no upfront service fee and no minimum purchase requirement. New this year, after an order is created in-store, subsequent payments can be made on the chain’s online site.

Other holiday initiatives include:

  • An aggressive holiday marketing program that includes personalized e-mail communications, as well as values and deals every day from now until Christmas. Loyalty incentives will be enhanced throughout the holiday season, inclusive of a Friends & Family 20% coupon and an extra 25% bonus for “R”Us credit cardholders, among other programs.
  • Approximately 35 million Rewards“R”Us loyalty program members have the opportunity to earn 10% back, up to $100, on qualifying toy purchases through Oct. 31. The savings will be delivered via an e-gift card with no exclusions in November.
  • A new extended return policy allows shoppers to make returns through Jan. 25.

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Staples to open e-commerce development center in Seattle

BY Marianne Wilson

Framingham, Mass. — Staples plans to open a dedicated to e-commerce and engineering center in Seattle that will house teams responsible for driving major initiatives to enhance areas, including next generation digital platforms, personalization, and big-data. It will be the chain’s first office on the West Coast.

“Seattle is an innovation hub rivaling Silicon Valley and features some of the world’s biggest technology companies,” said Faisal Masud, executive VP global e-commerce, Staples. “Staples new Development Center will allow us to tap into the wide range of talented engineering and e-commerce professionals on the West Coast.”

Staples is adding software development, product management, usability, analytics and online merchandising positions as it continues to invest in omnichannel capabilities that let customers shop however and whenever they want, across mobile devices, desktops and stores. The company is currently working on several new e-commerce and mobile commerce initiatives.

“Staples is investing in areas with high concentrations of the e-commerce and engineering talent that will be key to our success,” said Prakash Muppirala, VP e-commerce engineering, Staples. “We will build integrated, collaborative teams with the goal of making the shopping experience easy.”

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Walmart enlists kids to help select ‘hot’ holiday toys

BY Marianne Wilson

Bentonville, Ark. — Walmart on Thursday announced its annual holiday top toy list, but this year’s list has a new spin: It was put together with the help of kids. The chain brought together 1,000 kids ages 18 months to 10 years to test, play with, and help select the top toys for the season.

“We are taking the guesswork out of customers’ holiday toy shopping by turning to kids to tell us what the real top toys are," said Scott McCall, senior VP of toys and seasonal at Walmart U.S. "Kids told us they want interactive toys as well as classic brands. After hearing this feedback, we did what we do best. We made price investments to offer absolutely great savings on these holiday toys and more for our customers."

According to an Associated Press report, Walmart gathered the kids over a three-day weekend in August in Dallas, where they played with 50 toys and chose their favorites.

The "Chosen By Kids" toys will be grouped together throughout the season in special in-store displays, on Walmart.com and in newspaper circulars around the country beginning later this month. The list features newcomers and classic favorites, and includes a new robotic pet Furby, a hugging Elmo and a Barbie dream house.

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