Toy wars begin among big box retailers

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 90 views 

Retailers Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us have again set the stage for another toy show down this holiday season each offering more perks to woo consumers to their corners.

The largest players seek to increase their market share of a $24 billion industry — the majority of this bounty is won between Oct. 1 and Dec. 24.

Friday, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced its Top 20 Toy List, two days before the company’ s early layaway program kicks off to the public. The layaway program has already been tweaked since it was unveiled less than a month ago, as the retailer rolled back the service fee from $15 to $5, all of which will be refunded to buyers in a gift card with the merchandised is picked-up.

Wal-Mart is also giving consumers a head start on layaway purchases if they “Like” Walmart on Facebook this past week. That shop early perk begins today (Sept. 14).

"As the largest seller of toys in the U.S., we know what parents are looking for. Whether bikes, dolls or action figures, we're committed to having the toys kids want on our shelves at prices their parents can afford all season long," said Anne Marie Kehoe, vice president of toys, Walmart U.S. "We carefully crafted our Top 20 Toys List to provide the right assortment for all kids. Making the list available now gives parents the chance to get toys early and take advantage of layaway with no gimmicks."

Toys "R" Us stands in the opposing corner with a few deals of its own. The toy specialty retailer raised the curtain on its plans for the 2012 Christmas season this week at a special preview event in New York City, laying out some of the key strategic initiatives it will employ to win with consumers during the important shopping months ahead.

The company said its 2012 campaign — "Why shop anywhere else for toys? Why?" — provides significant customer advantages heading into the holiday season, which include a brand-new Hot Toy Reservation program, along with the previously announced Free Layaway and new additions to its omnichannel capabilities.

“At Toys“R”Us, we believe that product differentiation, our unmatched breadth of selection, unique services, great value offerings and our toy-trained team continue to set us apart as a specialty retailer, and will catch the attention of consumers this holiday season,” Jerry Storch, chairman and CEO, Toys “R” Us, Inc. told reporters. “We’ve been preparing all year long and we’re ready to deliver a winning holiday season to toy shoppers as they seek to find that special gift for the children on their wish lists.”

Toys "R" Us will expand its brick and mortar presence with roughly 200 pop-up stores this year, these are temporary venues that cater to areas without the traditional store. Last year the toy retailer has 150 pop-up stores in the holiday shopping season.i

Toys "R" Us says its $1 billion e-commerce business continues to grow. Sales increased a 29% from 2010 to 2011. Last year averaged more than 33 million unique visitors per month, up from 15 million the prior year. The company's growing e-commerce sales allowed it to claim 18.6% of the toy share in the U.S. last year.  

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. does not break out e-commerce toy sales, but continues to tout the benefits its customers have with site-to-store. Customers can order online and pick up the merchandise at the nearest Walmart store, Neighborhood Market or Walmart Express — often the same day.

Toys "R" Us fired back with a similar program this year which it calls “ship to store." But the toy specialty chain went one higher with its first-ever toy reservation service for the 50 top items the company will soon reveal. By utilizing the service, shoppers are assured that their “must have” toy will be under the tree on Christmas morning. The free service will be available in Toys “R” Us stores nationwide and all 50 hot toys – regardless of if the items are in-stock at a local store – will be eligible for reservation, the company said.

To take advantage of Hot Toy Reservation, customers will need to visit the customer service desk in all Toys “R” Us stores nationwide to place their orders with a 20% down payment. Shoppers can reserve items through Oct. 31. Customers will receive an e-mail notification when their orders are available and have until Dec. 16 to pick up their orders.