The challenges that were ultimately Toys R Us' undoing had been decades in the making, according to multiple conversations with industry executives and employees.
Years of being the most important toy store in town left it cavalier, according to those former employees and industry insiders. They said it didn't take care of its store base — whether that meant pruning stores that weren't making money, or putting resources toward those that were. It also under-invested in its digital business even as e-commerce skyrocketed, those sources told CNBC.
"Experiential" has become a buzz word among retailers trying to compete with internet, but Toys R Us's struggles to translate the joy of toys into something more tangible in its stores would ultimately be one of its biggest missed opportunities.
Another would be losing touch with its core customers: mothers shopping for their children.
"I remember when I first got there, walking into the first meeting with the executive committee thinking, 'This is going to be interesting. Our target audience is moms with kids, and I just walked into a room of guys with ties,'" said Warren Kornblum, who worked as chief marketing officer in the late 1990s and mid-2000s.
Toys R Us could have, for example, moved faster into online white glove service for its Babies R Us business, making it easier for a pregnant woman to receive the delivery of her crib.
One former employee recalled asking why Toys R Us did not have a catalog like Sears. She was told that mothers could come into the store to shop for the kids, but she knew that working mothers might not have the time.
With those shortcomings, Toys R Us was unprepared for the competition it never saw coming. Big box stores first undercut it on prices, and later online retailers offered the capabilities it had never built up. A failed partnership with Amazon that ended in litigation only served to further set back its digital business.
It was under that pressure and swooning stock price that Toys R Us sold to financial buyers, in hope of salvaging its value. But the debt brought with it new problems and time saw a further onslaught of competitors. The toy industry itself rapidly changed, as iPhones flooded the market.
Ultimately, it would all be too much.