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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

A TRU Holiday WishList

In recent years, my wife and I have discovered a very effective parenting hack when it comes to buying birthday presents for our four children.

Rather than ask our kids what they want in advance and then have to run around trying to find whatever it was they requested, we schedule a visit to Toys R Us (TRU) on the evening of their birthday, give the kids a "birthday budget", and set them free in the store.

Our kids get the thrill of exploring the toy store and deciding exactly what they'd like to receive as gifts from us, with the bonus of practicing a crucial life skill: prioritizing their wants based on a limited budget.

And my wife and I have one less thing to worry about from a planning perspective.*

It sounds like an obvious win for everybody, doesn't it?

Then why haven't we seen Toys R Us (or any store that sells toys and gifts, for that matter) formalize this as a standard experience, especially for the holiday season?

A "Gift-Registry" for birthdays and holiday shopping, if you will.

Think about how it might work...

In advance of visiting the store (or on-site if you're not great at planning ahead), you could set up a "Parent Account" with your name, mailing address, credit card information, and the names of your intended gift recipients.

Then you visit the store with your kids on their birthdays, a "Santa's List Day" (perhaps a new tradition you create with your family), or on any other gift-giving occasion.

Your children register themselves at a special in-store kiosk set up for that very purpose by typing in their first names and the reason they're shopping ("It's my birthday!" or "I'm putting together my list for Santa!"). Once that's complete, they're given a barcode scanner. You scan a QR code on your phone's store app as part of your children's registrations so that whatever they scan is added to a list under their name.

The kids then proceed to explore the store, scanning whatever they may wish to receive as a present. When they're finished, they return the scanner to the kiosk and get a special printout of their list. For a birthday, the top of the list says "My Birthday Wish List". For Christmas, the top of the page might read "Dear Santa, here's a list to make things easier for you". You get the idea.

Of course, the print-out is just a souvenir for your child, since every item your children have scanned will automatically appear in your app... conveniently located next to large "buy now" and "share with a friend" buttons.

Your children get the thrill of the treasure hunt, the fun of adding "whatever they want" to their list, and the delight of knowing the presents they'll get are all presents they wanted.

You get an itemized list of the items your kids want most, all in one place, and the ability to not only conveniently purchase whatever you decide to buy yourself, but also easily share gift recommendations with family members asking for suggestions.

And the retailer gets data. They get to know exactly what toys kids of each age group (and postal code) want. They can use that data to better understand toy trends, better manage inventories, better extract concessions from manufacturers who are pushing them to stock "unpopular toys", and better understand (by comparing the "wishlists" to actual sales during the season) how effectively they converted shoppers into buyers.


And yet, I don't know of a single toy retailer who has any such holiday wishlist in place.

Gift registries are common for weddings and baby showers, but for some reason, not for birthday presents and holiday gifts... and let's remember, most people are going to have more birthdays and holidays than they will weddings and babies.

Instead, retailers hoping to capture holiday toy sales continue to rely on holiday toy catalogues sent to homes in the mail. This year, I was sent catalogues from Amazon, Indigo, Toys R Us, and Walmart; my kids used all of them to create their lists for Santa, but when they were finished, my wife proceeded to order everything from one place: Amazon.

How could those other three retailers have made it easier for us to spend our money with them instead? By making the shopping experience better!

And I'd humbly suggest any toy retailer implementing a "Wish List" program like the one I described above would make their in-store shopping experience much, much better.

As I tell my Retail Marketing Strategies students, "Retail isn't dead. Shitty retail is dead."

It's not guaranteed that retailers who make it fun and exciting to shop in their stores will succeed. (See Exhibit A: Mastermind Toys).

But it sure does increase the odds of effectively competing against Walmart and Amazon when they'll almost certainly beat you on price, selection, and convenience.

A girl riding a tricycle in a toy store.

* I keep trying to convince my wife to start a parenting podcast with me where we share other parenting hacks like this one (mostly because we've developed a lot of them over the years!) but so far, she has refused. I'm starting to take it personally. She doesn't care.

1 Comment

I don't know if it's my own twins cleverness or if this is widespread, but my kids already do this on Amazon. However, I am forwarding this email to the big Toy Store here in Poland (40M people) as I think it is a fantastic idea!


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