Future of stores like Toys 'R' Us depends on companies' ability to adapt, says marketing prof

As Toys 'R' Us works on liquidating its U.S. operations, the company is trying to save its Canadian stores which it says are still going strong. But as other large retailers, like Sears, go out of business, some worry that Toys 'R' Us will struggle to keep up.

'I think they need to be more Madonna — they need to keep reinventing themselves.'

Nicole Rourke is a professor of marketing at St. Clair College. She said that stores like Toys 'R' Us need to reinvent themselves to keep up with what customers want. (Arms Bumanlag/CBC)

As Toys 'R' Us works on liquidating its U.S. operations, the company is trying to save its Canadian stores which it says are still going strong. But as other large retailers, like Sears, go out of business, some worry that Toys 'R' Us will struggle to keep up in Canada as well.

Nicole Rourke is a professor of marketing at St. Clair College. She's also a mother of two kids who is no stranger to shopping at toy stores. 

"I think there are some consumers that want everything under one roof but other consumers want that special feeling —they want the experience," she said. "It's much more about the customer experience."

Customer experience

Rourke said that as a mother and a shopper, she appreciates stores that offer a chance for her to get everything done under one roof. 

"I like to go into a store, get what I need, get it wrapped up and get it out of there because I have to bring two kids to a birthday party in five minutes," she said. 

Toys 'R' Us needs to satisfy both its young customers and their parents if it wants to stay open here in Canada, said Rourke. (CBC)

Offering services, like gift wrapping, or anticipating what a customer needs is important, said Rourke. Especially at a business like Toys 'R' Us who are catering to two different consumers. 

"Toys 'R' Us is a unique type of store because they've got two target markets," said Rourke. "They've got the kids and the parents." 

She said the store needs to make the experience a good one for all members of the family, so that they want to go back.

Keeping up with the times

Large retailers need to do a better job of reinventing themselves, said Rourke. 

"I think they need to be more Madonna. They need to keep reinventing themselves and understand what consumers want," she said. "Consumers have a lot more power now than ever before."

For local business Cartoon Kingdom, which specializes in nostalgia and collectors toys, staff
said they feel that over the next few years consumers will continue to single out specialized retailers to find specific items.

Sarah St. Pierre, manager of Cartoon Kingdom, said toy shopping is becoming very specific. (Arms Bumanlag/CBC)

"The trend is that you still have a lot of people that are purchasing gifts for their kids or for themselves," said Sarah St. Pierre, manager of Cartoon Kingdom in Windsor. "Collectors especially — we have a lot of collectors ... toys are still very relevant but they're becoming very specific." 

Rourke said the future of shopping will be different, but malls will stay if they can anticipate the customers' need and make it a great experience for them. 

"I think the future is going to be strong for the malls that understand customers need a unique experience," she said. "They need to evolve."