All you have to do to feel the rush of racing a truck, watch wildlife while on safari, and nab a shark while fishing is head over to your local Toys R Us store. Just don't forget your smartphone.
Two weeks after filing for bankruptcy protection, the toy giant is debuting an augmented reality experience that it hopes will help reinvigorate its stores and make them destinations for shoppers who might otherwise choose to shop online.
The AR activities - which plant computer generated images on top of a real world environment - tap into the interest sparked by the Pokemon Go craze last year. They will go live at 23 Toys R Us stores on Monday and then nationwide on Oct. 21.
While the AR experience was being developed months before the company filed for Chapter 11 protection to deal with $5 billion in long-term debt, efforts to make the retailer's roughly 1,600 stores more interactive will be key to the company's turnaround, says CEO Dave Brandon.
"It's going to transform the experience of coming into a Toys R Us bricks and mortar store and turn it into something that's quite different and a lot more fun,'' Brandon told USA TODAY. "We believe that's going to drive a lot more traffic into our stores which will ultimately put us in a position where we can be more successful at growing our sales and our company.''
An app will be the key to unlocking AR activities at 13 stations throughout the store.
Geoffrey, the Toys R Us mascot, will greet customers virtually, giving them instructions on what to do. Young shoppers, guided by flashing icons and stickers on the floor, will point their tablet or smartphone at a sign on a shelf. Once the sign is scanned, a toy or activity will come to life on the screen.
In the baby doll aisle, for instance, a cooing, virtual version of a doll on the shelf can be adopted, given a name, and even have its dirty diaper changed. in the basketball station, kids can sweep a ball into the hoop with a swipe of the screen, and compare their scores with others on a leaderboard.
Each activity allows shoppers to rack up stars, and the more they earn, the more experiences they can tap into.
A one-time pioneer trying to reinvent itself
It's a deeper dive into technology for the toy giant, a pioneer in the 1950's and 60's when it essentially became the first big-box toy retailer. In recent years the company has fallen behind online giant Amazon and rival Walmart who now have a greater share of the retail toy market.
In response, Toys R Us has upgraded its website, emphasizes its expertise and is trying to turn its stores into hubs of activities that go beyond shopping.
Analysts agree that if the store chain is going to compete, it is critical that it come up with unique experiences that entice a tech-savvy generation to stroll its aisles.
"It's vital for Toys R Us to give consumers reasons to visit its stores,'' says Neil Saunders, managing director of retail for the consultancy GlobalData. "This can only be achieved by spaces that offer experience and excitement. The current big warehouse type model just doesn't cut it. It offers no compelling reason to visit over buying online.''
Next up? Playrooms
Later this fall, Toys R Us says that it will open playrooms at 42 stores where children can try out games and gadgets, and toy demonstrators will be on standby.
Brandon says that he doesn't believe that "any one of these programs that we're both testing and rolling out is a silver bullet . . . that's going to dramatically change trends.''
But he added, "bringing our stores to life and creating engaging experiences for our customers is a business strategy . . . That strategy was in place before we filed to restructure the company, and it will be one that will continue with increasing amounts of investment as we move forward.''
Holiday shelves will be full despite bankruptcy
More urgently, the new experiences could help build buzz that encourages wary shoppers to visit Toys R Us this holiday season despite the bankruptcy filing.
"A lot of people hear the word bankruptcy and they immediately conclude that the brand or the company is going to go away,'' Brandon says.
To the contrary, he says, the company is working with its hundreds of vendors as it begins the restructuring process, and this holiday season "our shelves will be stocked. We're going to be as strong as we ever have, not only for this holiday season but for holiday seasons to come.''
Toys R Us will debut its new augmented reality experience at these 23 stores on Monday.
1. Toys"R"Us Allen – 170 E. Stacy Road, Allen, TX
2. Toys"R"Us Yonkers – 1000 Central Park Ave, Yonkers, NY
3. Toys"R"Us Amherst – 3030 Sheridan Drive, Amherst, NY
4. Toys"R"Us Cary – 201 Crossroad Boulevard, Cary, NC
5. Toys"R"Us Greece – 1530-1550 Ridge Road West, Rochester, NY
6. Toys"R"Us Henrietta – 654 Hylan Avenue, Henrietta, NY
7. Toys"R"Us Lincoln – 5220 N. 27th Street, Lincoln, NE
8. Toys"R"Us Rockford – 6449 E. State, Rockford, IL
9. Toys"R"Us E. San Jose – 2179 Monterey Road, San Jose, CA
10. Toys"R"Us Elk Grove – 8507 Bond Road, Elk Grove, CA
11. Toys"R"Us Times Square – 1466 Broadway, New York, NY
12. Toys"R"Us Secaucus – 3 Mill Creek Drive, Secaucus, NJ
13. Toys"R"Us Elizabeth-KidsWorld – 900 Ikea Drive, Elizabeth, NJ
14. Toys"R"Us Paramus II – 634 Rt. 17 North (at Ridgewood Ave), Paramus, NJ
15. Toys"R"Us Totowa – 445 US-46, Totowa, NJ
16. Toys"R"Us Wayne – 7 Wayne Hills Mall, Wayne, NJ
17. Toys"R"Us Citrus Park – 12845 Citrus Plaza Drive, Tampa, FL
18. Toys"R"Us Brandon – 330 Brandon Town Center Drive, Brandon, FL
19. Toys"R"Us Lakeland – 3770 US-98 North, Lakeland, FL
20. Toys"R"Us Raleigh – 7810 Poyner Pond Circle, North Raleigh, NC
21. Toys"R"Us Durham – 3330 Westgate Drive, Durham, NC
22. Toys"R"Us Long Island City – 3540 48th Street, Long Island City, NY
23. Toys"R"Us Flatbush – 2875 Flatbush Avenue, Flatbush, NY