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Oh, to be a kid again. Those were the days, when Thanksgiving meant family, football and a week’s worth of warm turkey sandwiches, and the weekend that followed was peppered with FSIs and first drafts of Christmas lists (written in the requisite red and green crayon, of course). The nostalgia is understandable, with so much of today’s shopping experience playing out on tablet computers and Smartphones. But in many ways, it’s practically obsolete. While it’s no secret that exciting changes continue to take place in the world of retail, it’s come as a bit of a surprise that it’s a toy store that has many consumers talking, and not just about Lego’s. A few weeks ago, Toys ‘R’ Us had my Vertical Marketing Network coworkers and I buzzing when it made news for becoming the second major retail chain in the U.S. to add mobile scanning capabilities to its 847 stores nationwide (the first was — obviously — Target). Now, in addition to the standard email alerts and newsletters, loyal and tech-savvy shoppers can redeem Toys ‘R’ Us coupons and gift cards via their Smartphones. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: the plaything palace already boasts applications for Blackberry, iPhone and iPad, and it recently rolled out a new kiosk campaign that allows consumers to create wish lists that can be printed and shared both in-store and online year-round. Toys ‘R’ Us may specialize in all things youthful, but it’s business model is very wise. Shopping — for kids of all ages — has never been so fully engaged.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like consumers can, in fact, grow up and remain Toys ‘R’ Us kids. The toy Mecca is no longer simply about bikes and trains and video games; it’s making more news than Harry Potter, and smart marketers should give in to its spell.
Whether online and in person, today’s Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays almost over-shadow the Thanksgiving holiday itself, with stores leaking deals months in advance. Toys ‘R’ Us serves as a model for navigating these crowded waters. During the last week of October, the retail giant tempted its 1 million-plus Facebook fans with an exclusive look at its legendary Great Big Christmas Book. Also through Facebook, the young at heart can sign up to receive special deals via SMS, and they can check out any number of the timely promotions Toys ‘R’ Us runs in partnership with brands such as Fisher-Price and Mattel. Offline, the brand works just as hard as it plays. On Thanksgiving in several U.S. cities, major retail giants such as Sears, Wal-Mart and yes, Toys ‘R’ Us opened their doors to shoppers before the last piece of pie was served. Based on high turnout, this signals a clear message for retailers, at least for Time magazine: “If you’re open, they will come.” And boy, did they. The National Retail Federation reports that 2010 Black Friday turnout and spending was higher than last year, and according to this fun chart, the leaders of the “Santa Pack” aren’t surprising: Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Toys ‘R’ Us received the most “check-ins” on Black Friday. It doesn’t seem to matter that some analysts suspect heavy social-media users to shop more online than in-store; online retail numbers from the weekend were up, too — by 15 percent, approximately. Here we see the benefits of Toys ‘R’ Us’ broad-reaching campaigns. Like that other savvy retail giant, Toys ‘R’ Us has done an enviable job of maturing in the ever-changing market.
Perhaps the company’s theme song — that catchy ditty that equates growing up to no longer being one of the gang — should be rewritten to say, “I don’t want to grow up, but even if I did, I still would be a Toys ‘R’ Us kid.”
Now that’s a song worth singing.