We can only blame eCommerce so much for the demise of traditional, brick and mortar toy retailers like KB (RIP 2008), and of course, Toys R Us (RIP March 2018).
Beyond the Amazon Effect, there is another challenge for toy and game retailers that deserves some attention – the transition from board games and physical toys to digital play experiences. Online and app-based games, which can be accessed virtually anywhere with the touch of a button (or touchscreen) seem to have taken over.
When online gaming and apps first started to gain popularity, there were probably some missed opportunities for retailers to maintain their physical presence in this new era of digital entertainment, gaming and shopping.
A clear disruptor in this already disrupted market has emerged – the melding of amusement park-like features and “toy laboratories” that create immersive, interactive, toy-based experiences that simply cannot be traded in for a tablet device (kudos to Build A Bear, American Girl and LEGO). What would this model have looked like for a retailer like KB or Toys R Us? Sure, the approach is capital intensive, but such reinvention could have provided enough reason for children to ask their parents to take them to the toy store to walk among life-size action figures, or repurpose their broken toys into something new.
In fact, many customers today are filling the Toys R Us void with visits to the American Girl Store, Build A Bear Workshop, and LEGO stores. In a post-Toys R Us world, new players are also jumping in to meet the demand for physically present toy experiences.
Party City has 50 “Toy City” pop-up stores ready for the holiday season. Target has allocated half a million square feet of additional space for toys. Those two examples are opportunistic and not necessarily sustainable for the long term. Future success will come from new ways of creating exciting and immersive environments as current digital options provide. Augmented and virtual reality are already working to create that type of interactive in-store experience.
While I started off discussing the demise of traditional toys and games, clearly there are plenty of customers who seek them out, and a handful of innovative retailers who recognize the demand is still there. It’s a matter of changing perspective and building a unique experience.
This same kind of innovative thinking can be applied to retail for all age groups. An iterative innovation approach will guide how your brand gets ahead of the curve and crafts a physical consumer-based experience around your business.
Meanwhile, take a few minutes this holiday season to play a board game or two with the young ones around you. They may even enjoy the experience so much that they decide to table their tablets. (At least for a few hours).
November 29, 2018
Written by Manish Patel
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