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Toys “R” Us makes store registers jingle with holiday “hot toy” reservations

There’s only 101 days left until Christmas, and Toys “R” Us is gearing up for the holiday season with its new Hot Toy Reservation system, designed to lure parents into its stores. The system allows consumers to reserve products from the store’s 50-item Hot Toy list to avoid the holiday rush and out-of-stock woes.

“The Hot Toy Reservation will launch in conjunction with the release of the holiday Hot Toy list, which is coming soon,” says Toys “R” Us director of corporate communications Jennifer Albano. “At that point, customers will be able to either purchase the Hot Toys right then and there, or if something is out of stock, they have the ability to reserve items. Once their order is complete, they will receive an email.”

Once the Hot Toy list makes its holiday debut, customers can visit a Toys “R” Us customer service desk at one of its 600 store locations and make a 20% down payment to reserve all the Hot Toys Little Billy and Little Susie can’t live without this holiday season. Customers have until October 31 to reserve their items (just in time to shop for Halloween costumes). Once the order has been placed, customers will receive an email notification and will have until December 16 to pick up the ordered item (luring them back into the store right at the end of Hanukkah and just before Christmas).

“Our target audience is mom and dad. They’re the ones doing the shopping in our stores,” Albano says. “We offer them a variety of services like Hot Toy Reservation to provide them convenience so they don’t have to spend their December searching for that particular item their child may want.”

Customers will be notified of the Hot Toy list release via the Toys “R” Us website, Facebook, and email for those who subscribe, Albano says.

 In addition to Hot Toy Reservation, Toys “R” Us is providing a free layaway option that allows customers to budget their purchases by paying no upfront fee on any toy in the store until October 31. Albano says consumers must payoff the toy by December 9 and pick up the item by December 16.

“With layaway, it’s just a different way for [consumers] to budget their holiday spending,” says Albano. “So if they want to come into our stores now and take advantage of the maximum amount of time to pay something off, they can do that.”

Although the holiday Hot Toy list is distributed annually before the holidays, this is the first year Toys “R” Us is launching the Hot Toy Reservation program.

The toy tycoon had a net sales value of $13.9 billion in 2011, a significant leap from its $11.3 billion net sales total in 2005, says Albano. This past December also marked the sixth consecutive year that Toys “R” Us had raked in positive comparable store sales growth within the U.S.

In addition to enhancing its in-store presence, Toys “R” Us is growing its e-commerce platform. Albano says Toys “R” Us’ $1 billion e-commerce business grew 29% from 2010 to 2011. In 2011 Toysrus.com garnered an average of 33 million unique visitors per month, more than doubling its 2010 monthly average of 15 million. 

Albano says Toys “R” Us’s exclusivity factor separates the brand from competing e-tailers; for example, by selling rare and collector edition Barbie dolls and limited Lego lines.

“As a specialty retailer, Toys “R” Us really does have more toys than anyone else. We specialize in toys. We are the toy authority,” she says. “We’re able to focus on toys and carry a broad assortment that can’t be found anywhere else, including exclusive items, our own proprietary brands, as well as just aisle upon aisle of the toys that kids want.”

Despite the rise in e-commerce, Toys “R” Us consumers still prefer to shop in-store versus online. “I will say that our e-commerce sites have experienced tremendous growth over the last few years—in fact, double digits in the last two years,” Albano says. “At the same time, over 90% of our sales still occur in stores. The physical aspect is still very much alive.”

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