What’s in a brand name, anyway?

It is a common story – a big brand, big name retailer going out of business, unable to compete with competition. Toys ‘R’ Us, which collapsed in 2018 was perhaps one of the most prominent examples of this. It had a strong brand identity both in the United States and abroad, being a household name. But a string of factors left the business vulnerable, and it shuttered its last store in 2018.

That is, until Target emerged and made a deal to use the brand for their own sales. Opening a new website in October, shoppers could again buy toys under the well-known brand, seeing it resurrected from retail oblivion anew. Though, only in a sense, Target takes most sales, with the brand the only remnant of the once colossal toy retailer. Unlike other companies that were rescued by lenders, Toys ‘R’ Us only exists as a brand, with the benefit of being already established in the minds of consumers thanks to decades of presence in America and worldwide.

With more and more shoppers turning to online retailers for toys, according to our TGI Consumer Data over the last twelve months 16.6% of adults in the U.S. bought toys and games online, with just under a quarter of adults now buying toys online. Using the brand of Toys ‘R’ Us to shift its own product is a sharp move by Target, which is used by 46% of American customers already. Target is potentially taking advantage of its own position; parents who shop online for toys are 51% more likely to have used Target as a retailer in-store and online. With such small risks, it’s easy to see why Target took the opportunity to draw sales from a once-flagship brand.

Interestingly, however, is that the Toys ‘R’ Us brand is not only being used by Target to draw its own successes, it has also been relaunched on the American high street as well. Two permanent stores in the Galleria Mall in Houston and at the Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus, New Jersey are due to open.

These stores will operate much differently to what they used to. Toys ‘R’ Us was well known for its colossal stores of up to 40,000ft, but these stores are to be much smaller, allowing for a more intimate shopping experience than that of the megastore. These shops, through a partnership with a different company – b8ta – will be a much more interactive experience, with pop-ups for new, current brands, rather than quantity of stock and shelf space. These stores are very much a test, not only of whether footfall will return, but of whether an established brand can use modern innovations to launch a presence that fuses both the online and the physical shopping experiences.

By tracking data and footfall, perhaps they can establish trends and create a brand accessible to modern retailers, and this could be watched closely by retailers in the UK, eager to see how software and online can resurrect flagship brands. A whole string of retailers have collapsed in Britain recently, some of which were household names – and we may see other brands re-emerge from the once bustling high-street, eager to embrace new trends in shopping and consumer habit.

As more and more consumers look to online retailers for their shopping needs – much can be learned from the relaunch of Toys ‘R’ Us – providing it is a success.


James Dilworth is an Editorial Assistant (Forward Planning Services) at Kantar.

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