The purpose and focus of retail store design has changed at an almost fundamental level over the past two decades, leaving retailers of all shapes and sizes forced to adapt to survive.
One of the largest reasons for this is the rise of eCommerce, which means that many brick-and-mortar stores cannot compete on price alone and thus needed to provide an excellent shopping experience that cannot be found online.
Many small stores, already largely community-driven, adapted to this very well by leaning into their strengths, whilst larger retailers had the budget to extend and adapt their value offerings.
However, for every McDonalds or Games Workshop, there have been several stores that failed to truly evolve, which in some cases cost them their very existence.
Toys R Us
The story of Toys R Us is a murky and complex one, not necessarily helped by its online-only return in 2022 that at least brought back its iconic jingle. It is a store that ultimately collapsed for many reasons, at least one of which was self-inflicted
Toys R Us, in its original and most well-known form, was designed to be a gigantic toy supermarket, in that it was a large building with a largely spartan design that sold itself on sheer scale.
Going to Toys R Us meant children had the best chance of finding the toys, games and bicycles they wanted, and for decades that was the only selling point that was needed, masking the fact that the shopping experience was largely terrible, especially for electronics.
Online retail made a lot of superstores redundant, and as retail traffic moved away from retail parks and back onto high streets, Toys R Us struggled to adapt, with a major recession not helping matters, ultimately declaring bankruptcy in 2017 in the United States and taking out the rest of the international operations in the process.
Whilst any conclusions are complicated by allegations of fraud, Toys R Us was in a precarious position notwithstanding any other circumstances.
The high street store affectionately known as “Woolies” for decades was very much a jack-of-all-trades in the retail business, bringing a lot of different businesses together under one roof but not specialising in anything other than pick ‘n’ mix sweets.
They famously struggled for decades to go upmarket and compete with other department stores, and when discount stores such as Home Bargains and Poundland started to appear, the store was in serious trouble, with the global financial crisis finally ending it in 2009.