Tag Archives: Amazon

So long Toys R Us, my old friend

As many of you may already know, Toys R Us is finally closing down for good. While this post is outside the normal scope of this blog, it’s also relevant in so many ways, because it illustrates not just an upheaval in the retail landscape that has been brewing for some time, but also how failure to respond to those kind of tectonic shifts in market trends, consumer demand, fiscal realities, and not exploiting the second most enviable on-line presence can tank a company like Toys R Us. Even now, it still has enough market presence that the closings will have significant upstream and downstream impacts.

More than that, I used to work there many moons ago. I loved it, so this has a powerful personal angle for me.

And they sold games. Rows of glorious games.

I first started working at the Sunnyvale, California Toys R Us back around, what, 1988 or so, in the stockroom, and the header image for this post is the front of the very store where I used to work (added bonus: It was haunted!). My secret plan was to eventually get to the game cage in the front of the store – those of you who have been around for a while may remember that cage, but if not, fear not: I’ll take you there in a moment, but when I started I worked in the stock room in back, and even there I loved it. It was a two-story, seemingly endless room with rows and rows and stacks and stacks of boxes; big items on the top floor and smaller boxes filled with merchandise to be put on shelves on the bottom. And when someone would order something big, like a plastic above-ground pool or a bike or a swingset or something, they would have to drive around the building to receiving, and we would pull the box from stock and put it on a slide – yes, a slide like you’d see in a playground – and send it down to the lower floor, then slide down ourselves and have the customer take it to their car.

We’d also unload the semis that pulled in, filled to the top with boxes in a not-at-all organized manner. The boxes were just thrown in haphazardly, not stacked, we’d have a manifest on paper, and we’d have to climb up into the back of the semi, climb to the top of the pile, and start checking off each box on the manifest, and throw it out of the truck on to the landing, where someone else would, or possibly would not, take it back to the stockroom. And those semis are BIG; they could have hundreds and hundreds of boxes. We never knew what we would get, it was completely random, and it was great. Good times. I saw on Google maps the semis still pull up to the back like always, I just hope now they have at least somewhat automated the progress, although I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.

Just like old times

Just like old times

After a while, I was moved out to bikes, then for some reason to baby stuff which was, surprisingly, still pretty fun – all the excited new parents made it enjoyable (crib recalls were *not* enjoyable, though), and then, I started getting asked to man the game cage.

Finally, I had arrived.

You see, in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, and even into the 32-bit eras, games were simply represented by their covers in the game aisle. There would be a card that had a picture of the front of the box and the back of the box, and underneath each card were slips of paper with the name of the game and the price printed on them; it’s very similar to how Office Depot does furniture sales now, if you’ve ever seen those. Anyway, if you wanted a particular game, you would take the paper up to the register, pay, and they would give you a ticket you would take to a small booth at the front of the store, and inside that booth was nothing but games. Games everywhere. So many games! You’d give the ticket to the person in the booth, often me, and they’d give you your game. For me, it was a paradise being in there, seeing all the games that were available, reading the boxes and looking at screenshots, getting the excited kids – and sometimes adults – their games, even keeping it clean and organized was a joy. At that time in my life, there was nowhere else I would ever rather be. As I started school on the east coast, I would occasionally work over the summer, but eventually I had to dedicate more time to school and life, including summers, but I never forgot how much fun that job was at Toys R Us.

Also, I looked high and low for a picture of the game cage, but amazingly, I could not find a single one. I did find a couple of the game isles with their paper tags, though, although I’m surprised that even they are hard to find. If anyone out there,anyone reading this has any pictures of TRU game cage, please send it/them along – even Reddit couldn’t help!

Sega Genesis games in Toys R Us, circa 1990

Sega Genesis games in Toys R Us, circa 1990

I suspected something was wrong all the way back around 2001 or so, when the stores were redesigned to be more ‘playful’ and less like narrow grocery-store isles, only taller. I don’t recall anyone have much of an issue with it, but I suspected that it was a response to ‘something;’ you don’t embark on a complete redesign of an iconic store without being motivated to do so. Later I learned it was because of slagging sales, something that has plagued the chain for a very long time. They tried again in 2015, and we all see where that went.

It took them clear until 2017 to realize the importance of a well-designed, functional, aesthetic website, yet this is also a result of an epic, colossal screw-up on their part many years earlier. See, when Toys R Us first developed their online presence, they did so by partnering with -wait for it – Amazon, all the way back in 2000! That’s when the Internet was still in its fledgling stages, although to the point that e-commerce was starting to take off. If Toys R Us had taken a different path, they could have ridden a wave that saw Amazon become the behemoth, retail landscape-shifting e-commerce megacompany it is today, so much so that Jeff Bezos is now the richest man in HISTORY.

But no, they screwed up, and screwed up big. Instead of leveraging their partnership, in 2006 they sued to get out of their agreement with Amazon in  2006 by saying Amazon breached the terms by allowing other vendors to sell toys as well, which prompted Amazon to countersue claiming TRU didn’t fulfill its obligations and left many orders unfulfilled. It ended badly for Amazon at that time, but it foreshadowed a bad ending for TRU in the future. My guess is they wanted to create their own online presence, although Amazon was, even then, generally king of the hill for this kind of thing, and TRU never did get it right. Other companies had partnered with Amazon as well then broken away, TRU was not the only one, but those other companies, such as Circuit City, well, we see where they are now. Not that leaving Amazon was the sole cause of their demise, but they could have utilized those partnerships much better than they did.

There was also Bain Capital. Yes, Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital. In 2005, they made a leveraged buyout of TRU, shifting all assets to a holding company. The problem is, the toy market has always had narrow margins, and with a leveraged buyout using the assets of the bought out company to leverage (hence the name) the huge loan that is used for the buyout, the assets themselves need to be worth something. Toys aren’t a good asset group in that in that way, and it ended up dumping an enormous amount of debt on top of the company, about $5 billion, and I would have thought anyone could see that would never work out. With $400,000 annual payments towards that loan, they were crushed form the get go. Ironically, or more saddening and angrily, it was Bain Capital that also bought out KB Toys, only to force them to sell thanks to crushing debt as well, and who did they sell to? Toys R Us! Those two aren’t the only ones Bain has impacted, either. Although in fairness, Bain has also had many successes; they wouldn’t exist otherwise. It’s just that these hit close to home for me.

Even so, none of it would have been necessary if Toys R Us hadn’t been mismanaged to this point. To me, they are the Sears of toy stores. Grossly overpriced, absolutely not competitive in any way, worrying on store design instead of competitiveness, yet also haveing been, at one point, the trend setter (remember the Sears catalog?). They couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and focused on the wrong things at the wrong time, allowing competition to blindside them. What could one expect when they bring in the former head of F.A.O. Schwarz, the most expensive toy store to ever exist, to turn things around? Oh right, TRU bought F.A.O. Schwarz in 2009, along with KB Toys, then closed it down. Oh the irony. I think the writing was on the wall a while ago.

Many people online are lamenting the closure of TRU, however it seems many of them never actually went to TRU, but they don’t want it to close either because of overpowering nostalgia. That’s me; I haven’t actually been inside a TRU in years, and the last time I went it was quiet, a little dirty, the people working there seemed like they wanted to be somewhere else, I didn’t find anything of interest, I usually just went to the Target across the street. But I can understand how these people feel, I of all people can understand, and it has also hit me hard, perhaps harder than those who went there as customers. I loved it there, I could tell so many stories, from both the employee and customer perspective, and I am very sad to see it go.

No Amazon drone flights for now

Last semester, I made a post about Amazon’s intention to start testing the use of drones for the purpose of making deliveries. That’s right, they wanted to have a drone, with your box attached to the bottom, fly to your house, land, drop off the box, then fly back to wherever it originated.

However, Amazon isn’t the only one interested in drones; they’re really popular. So popular, they have caused problems for commercial jets, landed on the White House lawn, and you can even take an aerial tour of various places in the world thanks to drones.

Drone that crashed on White House lawn

Drone that crashed on White House lawn

So popular have drones become that the FAA decided they had to develop some regulations regarding their commercial use, and it appears that because of this regulations Amazon’s dreams of drone delivery will be left out in the cold.

It’s Cyber Monday

This is a weird Black Friday/Cyber Monday year for me. Usually the big tech companies have rolled out one or two things that make me say “I have to have that.” Last year it was the Surface Pro 2, which also made me the first customer at Fashion Show’s Microsoft Store. This year, however, for the first time in I can’t remember how long, there just isn’t anything that moves me or make me say “One, please” (If anyone finds sticks of 8GB Corsair Vengeance 1866Mhz dual-channel RAM on sale, let me know. That stuff never goes on sale. Get it together, Corsair! I need more RAM!).

There are smart watches and tablets and PCs and 4K UHD TVs and all sorts of fun things that will make your life better, easier, and make you a better person. 4K TVs, especially, are expected (by some) to be a big hit. They’re all great devices and I love to see the forward march of technology, but this year I’m happy with my status quo. Especially with the final nail in plasma’s coffin having been delivered earlier this year, I’ll hold on to my plasma ’til the end; you can pry it out of my cold, dead hands!

European Union wants to break up Google

Those of us who were around in the 90’s may remember when Microsoft became subjected to lawsuits by competitors and even governments because of what was perceived as their monopoly status, their aggressive tactics in maintaining that status, and their stranglehold on the PC market, which was an issue of their bundling of Internet Explorer with their OS, and their use of Media Player. Speaking of the European Union specifically, they have sued Microsoft again and again and again. Of course, Microsoft can give it as well as take it.

While I always understood the concerns and the actions taken, I always felt the relentless pursuit of Microsoft specifically was uneven in the tech industry, when other companies were dominant in other areas, such as AOL / Time Warner. It wasn’t as though people couldn’t download other browsers, and the concern about browsers is long over with all of the options available.


Amazon is hiring flight engineers for its drone service

Amazon has been interested in making deliveries by drone for quite some time, but there are many questions that have to be answered. When the p[lan was first announced earlier this year, there were very valid question brought up about what would happen if you weren’t home, how would the drone know exactly where to land, what if someone shot at the drone or tried to steal it?

We’re not talking about drones like the military uses, either, the drones Amazon plans to use are more in-line with what hobbyists have been using lately to document great views all over the world so the questions become more pertinent.

Now, there may be the beginnings of an answer. Amazon recently posted a job announcement for a Flight Operations Engineer for their Prime Air service. The role involves developing the test plans, flight paths, certifications, and test flights for an eventual rollout of a full-fledged drone-delivery service, and of course aviation experience is required.

Amazon makes their next move

As some of you may already know, Amazon has unveiled Kindle Unlimited, a service which, for $9.99 a month offers unlimited books and audiobooks, and you can have as many in your library at any given time as you can handle.

Not only that, you can apparently go from reading a book to having it read to you then back to reading it without ever losing your place. Dubbed Whispersync, it appears the ebook must have the Whispersync capability to begin with, or it can be added after the book is downloaded, but there already tens of thousands of books that have it.

You’d have to be a pretty voracious reader to get true value out of this service, but there are certainly people who fit that description. Would you use it? I’m genuinely interested what people think of this service and whether they think it has value.