Toys “R” Us is making a comeback.
After racking up $5 billion in debt and declaring bankruptcy last year, the former toy giant will open two new stores this November — at the Galleria Mall in Houston and the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey. It won’t exactly fill the void left by the 800 Toys “R” Us stores that have been shut down, but it’s a start.
With the two new stores comes an updated shopping experience. Instead of the 40,000 square foot Toys “R” Us warehouses that we’re all used to, the new spaces will be relatively small and feature a high-tech interactive twist. The retailer’s parent company, Tru Kids, has partnered with software company b8ta to create what they call an immersive retail experience.
According to Fast Company, brands will pay for the privilege to create “mini-stores” of their own inside the Toys “R” Us space, and will follow the b8ta model of “retail as a service.” Customers will have the opportunity to try different products before purchasing them in the store or online. In other words, the stores will really function as a marketing space for participating brands. B8ta has already done the same thing with retailers like Macy’s and Lowe’s.
“What’s fundamentally different about the b8ta model is that typically the revenue generated comes from vendor brands paying for in-store and online real estate,” says Forbes. “In the case of Toys “R” Us’ resurrection, this fundamentally changes their underlying economics and shifts the role of the store from a place to buy things to a place to try things.”
Whether the physical redesign and the new retail model will help Toys “R” Us return to its former glory in a competitive toy marketplace is anyone’s guess. As Forbes points out, two new stores don’t constitute a national strategy. And it remains to be seen which brands will be willing to shell out the cash to work with a Toys “R” Us reopening after many of them got shafted during the bankruptcy.
For their part, the folks at b8ta are optimistic. “The new Toys “R” Us stores will be the most progressive and advanced stores in its category in the world,” said b8ta founder and CEO Vibhu Norby in a statement. “And we hope to surprise and delight kids for generations to come.”