Toysrus.com Aims for Profit With Imaginarium.com

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Amazon.com and Toysrus.com yesterday debuted Imaginarium.com, an online store at Amazon.com featuring learning and discovery toys for children up to age 8.


Imaginarium.com is expected to help Toysrus.com Inc. reach profitability by early 2003, according to Jeanne Meyer, vice president of corporate communications at Toysrus.com Inc., an affiliate of Toys "R" Us Inc.


Toysrus.com saw its sales jump from $49 million in 1999, its first year in operation, to $180 million last year. During the fiscal quarter that started Feb. 1, Toysrus.com's sales total tripled from the prior-year quarter, and its conversion rate has doubled since its partnership with Amazon started approximately one year ago.


Amazon will handle customer service, product fulfillment and technical issues for Imaginarium.com, while purchasing, planning, inventory management and merchandising will be the responsibility of Imaginarium, which has 42 bricks-and-mortar stores nationwide.


Imaginarium, which Toys "R" Us Inc. acquired two years ago, expects to have more than 200 locations in the next few years. More than 700 Imaginarium "stores within a store" will be launched at all Toys "R" Us stores in the United States.


"All 700 stores are being renovated and will include the store within a store," said Meyer, who described the new Web site's offerings as higher-margin products. "We've created Imaginarium.com as a store within a store environment.


"When you take a typical online shopper, they are typically becoming the more upscale, busy, educated mom," she said. "Women are now holding the purse strings online as they have always offline. The Internet is no longer the bastion of the male geek."


Imaginarium.com uses a Learning Values system. This provides shoppers with the ability to search for items based on skills that a child will use. Categories include mathematical, musical, linguistic, visual, motor skills, cooperative play and independent play. The site's toy finder feature allows buyers to combine the Learning Values system search with tools that search by keyword, price, age, category or brand.


Brands featured on the site include Learning Curve, BRIO, Neurosmith, LeapFrog, Baby Einstein and Madame Alexander.


"Many learning or educational toys sit untouched, so the question often is, how do I find one that a child will want to play with?" Meyer said. "Their products tend to be the kind of products that are not found in a typical toy store.


"And there are occasions when you're not sure what you need, and that's a dilemma that must be solved," she said.


Imaginarium.com's toys are segmented into five age groups: up to 24 months; 2-year-olds; 3- and 4-year-olds; 5- to 7-year-olds; and 8 and older.


"We have an area called a resource center that contains articles on child development and parenting," she said. "In the fall we will have an assessment tool. It helps you better assess where your child is in different developmental stages and suggests products that would be right for a child.


"The average family spends more than $7,100 on a new baby during the child's first year," Meyer added. "After a year, parents begin thinking about a child's development."


Marketing efforts to promote the site include leveraging the store environment with signage and point-of-sale information. In addition, Imaginarium.com will be featured in the fall in Toys "R" Us' newspaper inserts, which reach 52 million to 60 million readers.


Imaginarium has a catalog that is sent to a targeted list of its bricks-and-mortar shoppers. In the fall it will include products that are available online. The site also will be marketed on other parts of Amazon.com, including on the main toysrus.com page.


A free child's backpack that features the Imaginarium mascot, Cosmo, is being offered to those who place orders of $75 or more at Imaginarium.com through Aug. 3.


Visitors also can sign up at Imaginarium.com's resource center to receive an e-mail newsletter that will begin arriving in August. It will include product recommendations and information regarding child development.


"Imaginarium.com has specialty brands that you can't find at mass market stores," she said.


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