While Toys R Us was minding the store, it admits that it fell behind on e-commerce. Now the company is taking action in a bid to make up for it.
At a time when shoppers increasingly browse online and head to a store just to close the deal, Toys R Us is announcing Monday that it is revamping its website to woo back customers who may have fled to Amazon or other retail rivals.
The toy giant's new site will debut to a small number of users before a full rollout that is expected by early July. The revamp is part of a nearly $100 million investment by Toys R Us over the last three years that is geared toward jump-starting an e-commerce experience that it acknowledges lagged some of its retail peers.
"The website really represents the front door of our brand,'' said Lance Wills, Toys R Us' first global chief technology officer who noted that more than 60% of the company's customers visit its website before deciding to go to an actual store. "In a year to two years, we have to catch up on 10 years of innovation and that's no small feat.''
That was a deficit the toy chain could ill afford when 15.1% of retail sales, not counting gas stations, car dealerships, groceries and restaurants, occurred online in the last quarter of 2016, according to the financial information services and analytics firm IHS Markit. Last year, the company's same-store sales, an industry measurement that excludes revenue from newer locations, fell 1.4%. And in the fourth quarter, which includes the benefit of holiday sales, same-store sales dropped 3%.
"Some organizations recognize faster than others there are shifts in the ways customers want to be communicated with and the way customers want to purchase products,'' says Toys R Us CEO David Brandon. "It probably took us a while." .''
The makeover means that instead of constantly clicking through choices, customers can tap once on a category like "dolls'' or "bicycles'' and be led to a fine-tuned list. Check out for basic purchases will shrink from at least five steps to two. And for the first time, visitors to the baby registry will get notifications alerting them to a sale on bottle warmers or a stroller recall.
Retailers of all stripes are fighting to compete with online powerhouse Amazon, But for Toys R Us, chains like Target and Walmart have also become fierce competitors, vying for shoppers seeking out toys and baby products.
So it is counting on its expertise in those areas, as well as the new, streamlined website, to help it stand out from the crowd.
"We view anyone who sells toys and anyone who sells juvenile (or) baby products to be a competitor,'' Brandon says. But "we're not a big box retailer or an online retailer. We're a specialty retailer ... That's a unique position we have that other people frankly can't provide.''
The new site features larger images along with streamlined menus that make it easier for shoppers to find items. And customers who are simply shipping items to an address, instead of asking for gift wrapping or another extra service, will be able to complete the purchase in two steps.
That pared down check-out can mean the difference between finalizing a sale or losing a frustrated customer, Wills says.
"We look at our existing experience and the checkout is challenging,'' he says. "Industry research suggests that the longer that process takes, the more likely you're going to have a customer abandon that process.''
Meanwhile, the Babies R Us registry is replacing its current, squint-worthy print with a dashboard that boldly displays details like the number of gifts already purchased for the parent-to-be. A new notifications tab will alert visitors when a requested gift has been discontinued, or more
By June, the site will also offer shoppers a little advice. A car seat finder page will help new parents learn the difference between an infant carrier and a "travel system,'' explain how a five-point harness works, and other facts that can help them figure out the right car seat to buy.
"What we're doing is experimenting with different ways of helping customers to go through this process,'' says Victor Ortiz, Toys R Us' vice-president, digital product management, who says a similar page dedicated to strollers is also being planned.
A website overhaul was overdue, says Neil Saunders, managing director of the retail analytics firm Global Data.
"I don't think the Toys R Us website is particularly good,'' Saunders said prior to the unveiling of the revamped site. "It requires a lot of clicking and searching to browse through products. This isn't ideal when consumers have such short attention spans..''
Separate from the website overhaul, Toys R Us is also aiming to offer a more personalized experience to customers that includes targeted email and tailored presentations of Web content, specific to a shopper's interests, that will start later this year.