business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB took note on Friday of a Forbes piece online about Toys R Us, where leadership said at a press event that its shoppers are unhappy with its stores' "slow checkout process, cluttered and disorganized shopping environment, too-high prices" and too-frequent out of stocks. And so, they said, they are going to try to improve the store experience, hire better people, be smarter about inventory and get costs and prices right.

I commented:

Gee, what a revelation. Toys R Us has crappy stores and too-high prices, and the best way to fix the company is to make the stores' shopping environment less crappy and the prices more acceptable.

Go figure.

I'm not saying that Toys R Us can't be fixed. But I am saying that when you read what the company execs are saying, there is a faint whiff of Blockbuster/Circuit City/Borders in the words….

One MNB reader responded:

When I had a baby a few years ago, I registered at Toys R Us. My baby shower took place a few months before the baby was born, which I believe is pretty typical. After the baby was born, we opened the baby bathtub to find that it had clearly been used, and returned. When I brought it back in because a) it had been used (yuck!), and b) it leaked (I checked to see if it had been returned because it was faulty), Toys R Us made a big deal about the fact that I was bringing something back outside of their 30 day return period. Eventually they agreed to give me the lowest sale price in the past 6 months, even though it had been purchased as a part of my registry, and I’m pretty sure they knew exactly how much the person who purchased it had paid. They wouldn’t even allow me to simply exchange the tub in my hand for the exact same thing. I can understand why they wouldn’t want an out of season clothing item returned months later, but it’s silly to expect a new parent to open and test every item they receive for their yet to be born baby within 30 days. Since that experience I have recommended to everyone I can that they not register there, or if they do register at Toys R Us, to return everything they get and repurchase as needed once the baby is born. Bottom line, it doesn’t matter how many positive changes they make, it’s too little, too late for me!

From another reader:

I'll admit my bias on this one, as I put in a 3-month stint at one of their stores in MA, but I do feel I've got good reasoning behind that bias... Training was a pathetic joke, consisting of being shut alone in an old storage room for 4 hours to watch videos and fill out paperwork. I never received any on-the-job training or instruction. On my first day on the floor, nobody knew if I'd been hired as a cashier, sales associate, or customer service associate. The manager on duty didn't even know who I was!

Things actually went down-hill from there, with employees holding an on-going game of throwing merchandise at one another across the sales floor, money missing from tills that were never properly closed out, and managers going missing--only to be found hiding in the grocery store cafeteria next store.Merchandise was never stocked. Near the end of my time there, I was trying desperately to help a customer who was frantically searching for a particular doll. Even though the shelf was empty, I knew we had some in the back, so I broke open a box and brought one out to the customer... this resulted in the manager threatening to write me up and suspend me for "insubordination."

Again, I admit my bias. I have no way of saying this experience is indicative of employment and staffing at ALL of their stores, but I do know that I've never had a good customer experience at their stores either--be it MA, CT, AZ, or OR, I see the same issues. It's depressing (and pathetic) to me that, ten years later, they're just now getting around to saying "gee, you guys ... maybe we have a problem here..." It seems to me that they may be baling themselves out with a teaspoon.

MNB reader Chris Grathwohl wrote:

It becomes painfully obvious that the Toys R Us execs have never been in one of their stores, particularly in late November / early December.

The fact that slow checkout, cluttered and disorganized shopping environment is a revelation to them is a shame.

A little “management by walking around” – and not in their ivory tower exec offices – would go a long way here.

There was, however, one outlier:

Maybe I'm spoiled but I love my Toys R Us store! Now that I have a kid, unfortunately I have to go there every few months to get those last minute birthday gifts for the endless number of parties we get invited to. 

Now granted this is the Times Square location, so that's why I'm spoiled. My daughter is fascinated by the T-Rex. Dinosaurs aside, it for sure beats the small "hobby shop" in my neighborhood that has terrible selection and prices that are almost double what toys r us has. As a New Yorker, I also know I need to hit it first thing in the morning before the tourists get up. But the staff is pretty helpful and I can't beat the selection for a gift that I need for that day.

You may have found the one store that works … and I'd venture to say that it is the one store that has little to do with American retail realities.

Listen, while it may seem that I am picking on Toys R Us, my goal here is simply to suggest that there are lessons to be learned from its problems - that it is important to not just accept but to embrace modern retailing realities, to understand the fundamental ways in which consumers have changed and continue to change, and to constantly be reinventing business models so that one can stay ahead of these trends instead of playing catch-up.

Chiming in on last week's debate about the cost of a movie ticket, one MNB user wrote:

I like to see movies in theaters, however $7.00 is about my limit.

However, I rarely go to any movies at all.  Occasionally, I head up to the local library which shows second-run movies for free ... and throws in light snacks for free.

Here is why I don't see many movies in commercial theaters.

I get into the cinema at 1:45 pm for a 2:00 pm matinee.  I get all situated is a seat that is comfortable and gives me a good view.

At 2:00, the preview begins.  Since it is a preview, people talk through all the trailers. 

At 2:10, the last trailer starts.  Twenty people walk in and block the view and have a long discussion as to where to sit.  They are blocking my view so I miss the last trailer.

At 2:15, the movie starts.

At 2:20, an elderly couple and their daughter enter the theatre.  The theater is dark, over half full, and they have to pick "the best seat."  They stumble over people.  Meanwhile, the group of twenty are still holding a conversation about their luncheon is a loud whisper.  This conversation goes on until 2:45 pm.

Now, I guess that I could get up and find someone on the theater staff to resolve the issue.  However, all I will find is some kid who cannot resolve the issue and I will miss most of the movie.

If I routinely had experiences like yours, I'd probably hate going to the movies, too.

I try to be pro-active about dealing with such situations.

True story: Back in the early eighties, I took the girl of my dreams (who would become Mrs. Content Guy) to a movie in New York City. The trailers began to run, and one row behind me and a couple of seats to the right, a woman kept talking to the man she was sitting next to. I listened to it for about 30 seconds, then turned and gave her a look and an enormous "Shhhhh…!"

I then turned to my date and said, "I just told Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to be quiet."

Which was true. And she did.

From another reader, responding the the story about what the national average movie ticket costs:

$8.50 for a movie?

Have your reader let me know where that theatre is please!

I just paid 14 a piece for me and my wife to go the local UA!

Same here. The nicest theater near me costs $12.50 for a ticket, and more if I want to see something in 3-D or IMAX.

But as I've said here before, that is actually cheap entertainment compared to most other things, as long as it is a good movie and I want to see it.

For the past two weekends, though, there's really been nothing I've wanted to see, so we've stayed home. Not because of ticket prices, but because of movie selection.
KC's View: