Retail businesses have had it bad in Singapore. Once-bustling malls now look like Lim Chu Kang on a Saturday night, and many once-ubiquitous retailers like John Little have left or are in the process of leaving our shores for good.
But surprise surprise, one retailer that seems not only to be thriving but has plans to expand is… Toys “R” Us. Singaporeans may be opting to shop online more and more, there might be stiff competition from overseas online retailers like Target and, more recently, Amazon, and rents may still be stiflingly high. But that’s not stopping the toy retailer from opening two new stores in 2017.
So what’s worked for Toys “R” Us that hasn’t for all those other big retailers like Marks and Spencer, John Little, Isetan and Metro, whose outlets have been dropping like flies? Here are three reasons the toy retailer’s star isn’t waning anytime soon.
Parents can buy stuff for themselves online, but when it comes to selecting toys, they still prefer to let their kids do it in person
Most Singaporeans know how much more convenient it is to buy what they need online. That’s why so many brick-and-mortar retailers have bitten the dust—they’ve slowly been losing market share to online retailers who often also offer better prices. Want to buy a book? Get it cheaper on Amazon or Book Depository.
But when it comes to buying toys, once the child is old enough to have his own preferences, many parents prefer to go to a toy store with the tots so they can choose what they want. I mean, who on earth is supposed to know whether Dora the Explorer is cooler than Elsa from Frozen?
Demand for toys is not very sensitive to market conditions
Singaporeans are gearing up for a lousy economy and muted market conditions that will replace the dizzying growth we’ve enjoyed the past few decades.
That might hurt certain retailers in the luxury goods and fashion industries. But the demand for kids’ toys tends not to be as sensitive to recessions or poor market conditions.
Parents usually do not spend a large portion of their disposable income on toys, which barring bigger ticket items like gaming consoles, tend to be fairly inexpensive.
In addition, middle class Singaporean parents tend to be quite an indulgent bunch when it comes to spending on their kids. Children are bought all types of gadgets, from smart devices to merchandise from all the latest Disney movies. Parents are ready to go into debt for their kids’ educations, which says a lot about priorities.
That’s why Toys “R” Us doesn’t have to worry too much that they’ll be badly hit by economic conditions.
Trips to a toy megastore are a family activity of sorts
Now that the internet has shaken up the way Singaporeans see retail, it is becoming increasingly evident that stores that manage to reinvent the shopping experience, turning into it something more than simply handing over cash in exchange for a product, have a higher chance of success.
That’s why many so retailers now try to include an experiential element, whether they’re organising in-store events in the same vein as LuluLemon’s yoga classes and Books Actually’s literary events, or running a cafe on-site, such as the new Muji Cafe and indie cafe-retailer Cat Socrates.
So, Toys “R” Us doesn’t technically do any of that. So what’s worked so well for them?
Well, anyone who’s raised kids in Singapore will tell you that a trip to Toys “R” Us is, for the kids anyway, like a trip to a theme park. Kids love being in the store, running up and down the various aisles, browsing the toys they wish they could persuade their parents to purchase. Smaller retailers like Kiddy Palace are likewise packed with kids after office hours. Where Toys “R” Us benefits is in the size and scale of its outlets. To kids, the bigger the toy store and the wider the variety of toys they carry, the better.
For some parents, a trip to Toys “R” Us is in order after the end-of-year exams and before Christmas. Such trips typically last a few hours and are a big deal for the kids. For this reason alone, it doesn’t look like parents will ever start buying all their kids’ gifts on Amazon. Childhood might not be what it used to thanks to tuition and school stress, but at least there’s still Toys “R” Us.
Do you have any happy memories of Toys “R” Us from your childhood? Tell us in the comments!