Who says we need toys anyway? It seems pretty clear that kids are just as well--and maybe better-- off with sticks, rocks, and a bucketful of sand. The lenders in charge of Toys 'R' Us obviously disagree, as they've chosen to opt out of the company's planned bankruptcy.

That said, it seems like a smart business move to bring Toys 'R' Us back. The intellectual property is more or less intact and going forward, that may be the most valuable piece of the puzzle. But time proved beyond a doubt that the business wasn't sustainable in its old format, meaning something new has to happen for the company to rebuild. 

It's hard to say exactly why that is, though. Failure to keep up with Amazon in the race to build an online shopping empire was certainly a huge part of it. But then, Toys 'R' Us was never just about buying toys in the first place. It was also an experience, one that Amazon still hasn't matched with its own foray into brick and mortar.

Children--and even parents--could have fun browsing in Toys 'R' Us without buying anything at all (not that they didn't want to). Inside, everyone was a kid, and the endless rows of toys created a vision of playtime as the most important time. 

That experience clearly wasn't enough to keep the retailer afloat, though. So what will? 

A huge spotlight will be on the iconic brand and the entire retail industry will be watching. 

Look, the 'retail apocalypse' has absorbed many a casualty over the past few years, including household brands like:

  • Claire's (March 2018)
  • Bon-Ton (February 2018)
  • Charming Charlie (December 2017)
  • Vitamin World (September 2017)
  • True Religion (July 2017)
  • Gymboree (June 2017)

Toys 'R' Us has been on this list a time or two as well, but this time it's different--or has the potential to be. So what can Toys 'R' Us do this time around?

It starts with optimizing and rethinking the omnichannel shopping experience. The toys are available and the brand is already a household name. But being 'phygital' is a near-necessity these days, so how about the physical space? Is it possible the brand will create a new kind of brick-and-mortar experience? 

How about a few flagship stores that are completely automated--where the store is the toy--featuring robot assistants, clerks, and stockers?

Or maybe play places, rather than stores, where for $15 an hour, your kid can play with every toy that Toys 'R' Us sells (with the clear goal of getting you to buy the favorites online later)?

There are probably all kinds of other options, and the bottom line is that it's going to be really interesting to see how the brand uses innovation to revive itself. And that, my friends, is worth watching because it gives the retail industry hope for survivability. 

Either way--this time, we can be pretty sure they won't be toying around.

Published on: Oct 3, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.