Accessing All Avenues

A growing and increasingly important omnichannel strategy is helping Toys“R”Us Canada reach customers in-store and online

Tara Conway, Director of e-Commerce.
Tara Conway, Director of e-Commerce.

While some have been quick to assert the death of bricks and mortar in the digital age, toy stores know just how enticing physical locations are for kids who want to see and try products. That’s one reason why Toys“R”Us Canada has devoted the last decade to building a true omnichannel experience. As customer behaviour evolves, the answer for the national retailer doesn’t lie in creating a full online or full in-person shopping outlet, but rather in a hybrid approach that makes products available to the consumer through all avenues. The strategy is working.

Tara Conway joined the company’s e-commerce team in 2005 and is now the director of a full online business, with 19 employees who manage content, projects, merchandise, logistics, customer experience, mobile channels, and in-store integration for both Toys“R”Us and Babies“R”Us. As Canadians embrace online shopping, Conway is leading the push to reach the consumer on his or her terms.

“Canadians once browsed online for information but didn’t jump into the conversion world until five years ago,” she says.

Instead of directing online customers to stores by simply supporting the company with Toysrus.ca and Babiesrus.ca, Conway is building a true omnichannel vision more focused on logistics and fulfillment.

Advancements in e-commerce come when a company finds new ways to keep pace with the consumer.

“I always have to ask myself how I can give our customers what they want, where and when they want it,” Conway says. “It’s usually about speed, and it’s always about finding a way to say yes to the customer every time.”

First steps included store ordering and free shipping. Then Toys“R”Us moved to ship from store, which gives the e-commerce shopper full access to the entire store inventory countrywide. In 2013, the company launched in-store pickup.

For the plan to work, an omnichannel team must stay agile and responsive. Although Canadians were slow to embrace e-commerce, they are doing so in increasing numbers as smartphones, tablets, and laptops replace desktop PCs. Toys“R”Us and Babies“R”Us responded two years ago with the debut of apps and tablet versions of its web stores.

“We’re building out a shopping experience that is tailored to the behaviour of the consumer,” Conway says.

Smartphone solutions direct mobile customers to nearby stores while the tablet version has more info and interactive elements to engage users who may be browsing from the couch.

Perhaps the biggest opportunity in omnichannel lies in building customer loyalty. A Babies“R”Us registry program integrates all channels as expecting mothers check online merchandise and receive targeted e-mails throughout their pregnancy.

“We continue to talk to mom as her child grows and support her with a full omnichannel experience because we leverage research that allows us to track cross-channel,” Conway explains.

The registry and loyalty programs provide data that e-commerce leaders are using to understand channel behaviour for the first time. With it, they can discover if customers shop online or in-store. The value of the consumer peaks when companies succeed in driving traffic on both channels. Pregnant moms might leverage mobile and PC experiences, while moms with toddlers might choose the fun of the in-store experience. Today, Conway is watching how the consumer responds and engages during different life stages so that she can respond accordingly. There, the e-commerce team has introduced drive-to-store and loyalty offers based on collected consumer data.

Toys“R”Us and Babies“R”Us have put choice in the consumer’s hands by making all items available at home or in-store. In the fast-paced world of online shopping, brick-and-mortar stores can still thrive if they can provide convenience and choice. For Toys“R”Us, it’s all about integration.