This is a column by Kimberly Mosley, president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA). ASTRA is a not-for-profit organization serving over 1,800 independent retailers, manufacturers and sales representatives in the specialty toy industry. The views are those of the author.
When Toys R Us announced its closure, generations of parents had to search for a must-see destination to reward a child after scoring the winning football goal or to find that desired toy for the holidays. In turn, it was instantly realized that other big box stores lacked the capacity to fill the void left by Toys R Us. They couldn’t fit an entire toy store into their already full stores. to crack.
For this reason, we have seen more and more independent toy stores fill the void with innovative and unique shopping experiences to attract the overflow of customers, and these “grassroots” approaches serve to shape the industry. in a way that positively benefits the local toy owner.
Filling the Toys R Us Void
There’s no doubt that local toy stores have always had a greater product selection and personalized service than big-box stores. As part of their craft, independent store owners make sure to stock unique, high-quality toys and games that best fit their communities.
Now they are bringing more events and experiences to the store.
Local toy stores can deliver on the “customer experience promise” at a higher level than mass merchandisers and online retail through customer service and in-store events and since the closure of Toys R Us , stores across the country are increasingly producing these types of experiences for customers.
In-store events with branded experiences are a notable way for the industry to fill the void and we recently saw it thanks to Melissa & Doug when they partnered with South Carolina retailer Wonder Works to launch the experiential retail and offer interactive, screen-free play zones, known as “Immersive Play Zones”, which Melissa & Doug retailers now offer their customers. By offering original in-store events, stores strengthen their bond with the community and bring the magic to kids and kids at heart that was the magic of Toys R Us, and help brands big and small have a hands-on experience with customers.
Customer service is always essential
Local toy store owners understand that loyal customers return in part because of the superior and superior customer service that local shopping can provide compared to a big box store.
The customer service experience that has always been a part of shopping at local toy stores continues to take center stage in how retailers respond to industry changes. Local shopping provides a personalized shopping experience that can include offers like free gift wrapping, where one or two staff members are on hand to wrap gifts for customers, and/or enhance convenient personal shopping by calling the store prior to pickup and requesting the gift to be wrapped prior to collection. Another example of this personalized shopping experience is working with the store owner to find the perfect toy to suit your child’s developmental stage and interests (even if it’s not the last cinematic madness). Special orders, wish lists and other personalized services help make the local toy store a destination for the whole family.
By providing these amenities, the owner and staff get to know the customers, and in turn, mom and dad can rely on the expertise of the owner and staff to make the best choices for their child.
In addition to knowing their customers and the community they serve, they also know the business of play. Owners and staff understand that play is a vital activity in child development. They know about play and social development and can help parents and caregivers assess critical milestones. Through programs such as ASTRA’s Certified Play Expert (CPE), participants gain in-depth knowledge of the science behind play, toys as tools to enrich children’s lives, stages of child development and learning styles. Through programs like this, they are taught to recommend items based on the needs of the child and the goals of the parents. These are more informed purchases than impersonal clicks on an online store.
In the future, we can expect to see more branded in-store experiences, like LEGO building or immersive play zones. This trend, along with dedicated play areas for children while parents shop, will only trickle down as more and more toys think of creative ways to provide a “customer experience”. In a similar vein, pop-up stores that offer experiences such as “pop-up play days” in select cities are also taking off.
We will also continue to see long-term partnerships come to fruition over the coming years. By partnerships, think in terms of community cleanup projects sponsored by toy stores where children, parents and store employees work side by side to create a new play space.
Finally, as new retail technologies such as automated POS and near-field recognition become more accessible to small business owners, they will be able to meet high-tech customer expectations. with more effective marketing and the ability to spread the word.