In my attempt to get into the Halloween spirit, I recently watched a show called Lore, by Amazon Video. In episode 6, “Unboxed”, the writers look into the mystery around  Robert the Doll, a scary tale about a doll many believe to be cursed and actually alive.

As someone who has long thought all dolls were a bit creepy, this story just validated many of the beliefs I have long held — that all dolls are cursed.

It was therefore with some trepidation that, upon switching gears to check news for the day, that the report — and terrifying image — of a toy industry leader, American Girl, was first to show. 

The wildly popular doll manufacturer reported a  significant dip in sales for the third quarter 2017 to $88 million from $124 million at this time last year.

Of course, I’m tempted to blame the dip in sales to something more sinister — like a curse — but the reality is that the toy industry as a whole has been struggling for several years. Toy shelves seem to be shrinking at major department stores, and Amazon and other online retailers continue to put pressure on brick-and-mortar toy retailers.

Moreover, Toys R Us filed bankruptcy last month, which further put the entire industry on edge.

It is not just American Dolls that are feeling the pinch. Mattel, which is responsible for giving us Barbie in addition to American Doll, and the other industry leader, Hasbro, both reported significantly reduced revenue compared to this time last year. Moreover, the two companies combined to lose close to $800 million in market value, much of which was attributed to reduced orders from Toys R Us.

While the toy industry struggles to find an appropriate solution or pivot, other entrepreneurs can watch and learn.

As online retail continues to become more pervasive in our lives, many — if not all — industries will also need to adjust or even reinvent themselves to stay relevant.

For instance, in order for any physical retail store location to survive, it needs to do more than simply sell products — especially if those products are readily available online.

Physical stores need to create experiences that customers cannot otherwise have online.

Toys R Us seems to understand this. In their attempt to emerge from bankruptcy and earn investor trust again, the company is employing a number of strategies to get customers into the stores for this holiday season. 

  1. Augmented reality. The retailer will develop an gaming augmented reality experience for customers that can only be enjoyed in stores.
  2. Play rooms. The company also plans to add playroom areas to 42 stores.
  3. Toy demonstrators. In addition to seasonal workers, stores will hire toy-demonstrators to unbox and play with toys, allowing kids to also sample them.

Whether the Toys R Us is able to claw its way back to solvency is unknown. The toy industry, however, will survive, for as long as we have children with imaginations, there will always be a demand for creative and innovative toys.

Now, if we could just do something about those creepy dolls.  

Happy Halloween!