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With the shuttering of Toys ‘R Us, the holiday shopping landscape changed drastically. Parents had to find new channels and behaviors to procure the right gifts, and brands need to stay ahead of the curve to meet these changing needs. A major toy manufacturer needed to understand the new shopping dynamics and how they could satisfy and delight parents in this new environment. 

They needed to understand what the “boots on the ground” holiday shopping journey looked like, from a parent’s perspective. They needed to gauge movement throughout brick + mortar stores, engagement with displays, aisles, and end caps, and drivers of purchase, in order to innovate future streamlined planograms and displays to help elevate parents’ shopping trips. 
The C+R research team developed a multimodal approach of self-guided shopping missions using digital camera recordings, plus follow-up webcam debrief interviews, to help understand the pain points and identify impactful/winning strategies moving forward. 


A major toy manufacturer needed to gain a foundational understanding of the holiday shopping marketplace in brick + mortar stores, in a climate where the former major player is no longer in business (Toys ‘R Us). The goal was to understand the need gaps left by this change to in-person shopping, with particular emphasis on experiences at other retailers among parents shopping for holiday gifts for their children The team wanted to know what’s working/not working during these shopping experiences. 

To understand this new landscape, the brand needed to understand all elements of alternative in-store experiences, including:

  • Pathways
  • Time spent shopping
  • Role of signage
  • Importance of displays
  • Role of licensed properties and characters
  • Triggers to purchase
  • Frustrations
  • Delighters

The goal of the project was to establish a foundational understanding of the new holiday shopping landscape in brick + mortar stores. 


The research team discovered that when shopping in a store that is not focused on toys, capturing parent shoppers’ attention is the first critical touchpoint. They may have come in for groceries or paper products, but gifts may always be at the back of their minds. They need disruptions of attention to become aware of what may be available for purchase, whether the products are readily available or if they are directed to another area of the store. Such violators can be engaging to them and create a gateway to an area of the store where further experiences and products are available.

What’s interesting is that these shopping trips for parents aren’t “special” trips. When Toys ‘R Us was in business, a family trip to the mall resulted in a visit to Toys ‘R Us to play with items, and maybe “sneak-buy” them while the child wasn’t looking (or return later to pick them up). This was a discrete, focused experience. Today’s brick + mortar toy shopping is diluted with other category purchases. 

Once families get deeper into mass retailers’ stores, in fact, the presence of toys can become an annoyance or nuisance if kids want to play with items or beg for what they see. This wasn’t the main purpose of the trip and has now become a hindrance to purchasing the items they came into the store to buy.
We won’t reveal here the strategies that make successful conversions for our client or their competitors; those are industry secrets. What we can reveal is that the pathway through various departments, the presence of toy displays in each of them, and the shoppers’ (and children’s) reactions to each, shed a lot of light on how to improve the experience for those who want to receive gifts and those who want to give them.
This research shed important light on the new way parents are shopping and navigating stores during the holiday season and the triggers that make them happy and ready to purchase. 

The insights generated were turned into a highly stylized “Playbook” for cross-functional team members to use as they ideate how to apply these findings for subsequent years and energize the next seasonal wave of shopping. 


This study utilized a two-phase approach to the shopper journey. Everyone can agree that holiday shopping time is the worst time to drag along researchers and clients into a toy aisle. Instead, parent shoppers were outfitted with Go-Pro cameras and sent on natural shopping missions, to browse as they normally would during the holiday season. They were asked to narrate what caught their attention along their pathway through the stores. 
The shoppers submitted their shopping mission videos, which the C+R team subsequently watched. The team had some hypotheses going in, but needed the shoppers’ unfiltered reactions to determine where to develop lines of questioning for the webcam interviews that would follow. 
Then, individual discussion guides were developed for each shopper based on their specific journeys through the stores. C+R’s moderators identified places where shoppers paused, things they breezed past, and items that made it into their carts. Live, qualitative online webcam interviews were scheduled as follow-ups. 

For each online webcam interview, moderators were able to use shared screens to play back video to each shopper of the highlights and interesting moments of their journeys through each store. The moderators then probed specific in-store locations and behaviors, wondering about the motivations behind journey behaviors. Respondents were able to recall what they were thinking and how they reacted to products, displays, and signage, and provide further depth of understanding to their overall experiences in the aisles.
The results have helped the client brand understand the shifting landscape of shopping for holiday gifts in brick + mortar in a post-Toys ‘R Us environment. Most importantly, the C+R team was able to provide a “Playbook” to help the client delight and inspire parents for the next seasonal shopping adventure.