Marketing Decisions

(originally posted 3/1/2009)

I took my children to Toys-R-Us yesterday (they couldn’t deal with the fact that they still had unspent Toys-R-Us gift cards from Christmas). I haven’t been in a Toys-R-Us for many months. And I saw some strange things.

I understood when they started selling diapers and kids’ clothes. I sort of understood them starting to carry digital cameras and cell phones. You would expect a toy store to carry electronic toys, so digital cameras and cell phones aren’t too big of a departure. From a parent’s point of view, I can appreciate that they now carry some (very low quality) musical instruments. I’m behind anything that encourages children to think and create.

I just don’t understand Toys-R-Us carrying pet clothes, grooming supplies, and bedding. But again, they’ve been doing this for a while now so I was prepared to see these items. However, there is nothing that you can say to me to make me understand why Toys-R-Us is selling Sally Hansen Lip Inflation Plumping Treatment. WTF?!?! Where is this considered a good product to be selling to children? I am assuming that the target customer is children and parents shopping for CHILDREN!!! What message is this sending? Or is it that Toys-R-Us is so confused about how to stay in business that they’ll now sell anything?

Who is running this company (I’d look it up, but I don’t care that much)? Marketing 101 teaches that a brand should stick to things that go with its unique brand image. Selling things like bulk packages of toilet paper, paper towels, and general laundry soap (I understand selling Dreft and Ivory Snow in the baby section – that absolutely goes with the side of Toys-R-Us that makes itself a one-stop center for everything related to baby care) in a toy store makes absolutely no sense. If I’m going to buy toys and household consumables like cleaning products and paper goods, I’m going to Target or Walmart.

Actually, I probably am not going to Walmart. I hate that store. It is so unpleasant to shop there. The aisles are cluttered and disorganized. People act like they’ve walked right of prison when they shop there. And the place is just generally scary, especially in the parking lot. I will occasionally break down and shop there, but I feel dirty afterward.

But, I’m not going to Toys-R-Us for one-stop household shopping. It makes no sense. I go to Toys-R-Us to find specialty toy items. I expect Toys-R-Us to carry a wider selection of toys than I would be able to find at a general merchandiser. That’s not what happens when it starts carrying general merchandise. The toy selection becomes more narrow, Toys-R-Us can’t carry everything, and general merchandise, like paper towels, take up shelf space once filled by ‘exclusive’ editions or hard to find versions of toy items. And that’s why I’m there.

If Toys-R-Us is going to carry the same line of toys as a general merchandiser, then why would I go to Toys-R-Us? Even the illusion of carrying the same stuff that everyone else has destroys brand image, destroys the Toys-R-Us niche. I love Toys-R-Us. I have so many fond memories of shopping there with my dad and my little brother. I would sometimes pretend to hate it when I got older and it wasn’t cool to still like toys, but I always loved looking around – although I wouldn’t admit to liking anything. Someone is making some really strange decisions in regards to product lines. I realize that many old companies are struggling to find relevance in the age of internet retailing and Walmart. But diluting brand image is not the way to survive. Trying to sort of imitate another company’s business model doesn’t work.

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