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EDITORIAL Does rebirth at Toys R Us and Homebase offers a sign of things to come?

The news that Toys R Us is poised to make a comeback as a tech-driven omni-channel retailer marks a new chapter not just in that brand’s story, but in the story of ecommerce – and could offer hope to other retailers.

Toys R Us collapsed in 2017, an early victim of the changing retail landscape that saw a toy superstore with limited online clout fall victim to Amazon and a raft of new, online only ‘toy expert’ sites that did things better and more cheaply.

The brand, however, lived on and did attempt a reboot in 2019 as a ‘retail as a service’ platform, where brands that sold in-store could manage their own in-store experience and assess how it impacted their own online sales. But this model proved to also be too store focussed, with the company going down again in 2020 as Covid shut these stores.

Third time may be a charm, however. With WHP Group investing in the brand – both financially and technologically – the time could be ripe for Toys R Us to finally be reborn.

The idea is that it has a good, well-known brand that is synonymous with toys. By using technology to build a coherent omni-channel offering that can draw on the best of modern retail technology – both on and offline and it joining the two together – Toys R Us could rise again as a powerful toy retailer.

If it can leverage technology to create the kind of experiences, expertise and ease of use that consumers desire and combine it with economies of scale on the supply side to offer a competitive price then it could be on to a winner.

Similar happenings are afoot at Homebase. It too collapsed in 2018, being sold to turnaround specialists Hilco, for a symbolic £1, it too a victim of changing shopping habits and a competitive online and offline market.

It too is seeing something of a rebirth. This week it has launched a revamped website – mobile-first, naturally – that offers inspiration, expert advice and flexible payments. The online investment is being matched in store with new ’get the look’ displays, Storage & More ’shop within a shop’ and even more choice across home and soft furnishings. All will be supported by expert team members trained in everything from paint mixing and garden care to kitchen and bathroom design.

The Homebase move echoes what Toys R Us – and other retailers – are looking to do as recovery looms on the horizon. These brands ‘died’ at the hands of the early changes wrought by ecommerce, but having lain low, are able to leapfrog many other retailers by exploiting something of a clean sheet of paper when looking to build the retail experience that meets 2021’s mores.

While many high-profile retailers have gone out of business, those that are hanging in there, along with the brands that live on in name only right now can all take heart. Shopper habits have changed and many new brands have replaced the old, but the old aren’t forgotten. Relaunching in a way that take advantage of the technology to meet the demands of the market has it looks now could well see some of them make a surprising comeback.

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