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Facing Online Competition, Toy Stores Forced to Innovate

In the face of the existential threat to their business posed by Amazon and other online retailers, toy stores are obligated to innovate or face extinction, as in the case of the ill-fated Toys R Us. Camp is one store that does just that by offering children an opportunity to play with toys before their parents buy them, transforming the shopping process into one more focused on creating family experiences. Indeed, Camp, which recently opened a store in Downtown Brooklyn, bills itself as a “family experience store,” not strictly as a toy store, and the company hopes to lure customers away from online stores by creating a space where kids can have fun and parents can enjoy spending time with their children. In addition to selling toys, Camp hosts family activities, such as arts and crafts projects like making gingerbread houses or building a balloon powered car. The stores change their theme every few months in a bid to encourage families to visit repeatedly; currently, the space is summer-camp themed, and offers spaces like a playground and disco floors for children to play.

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While it’s free for anyone to visit any of Camp’s five retail locations, toys that are available for purchase can be found all over the place, enticing children to convince their parents to buy them something that catches their attention. As such, Camp’s plan to compete with online retailers involves fostering a physical environment where people are more likely to spend money. While it is surely expensive to maintain a store like this, the company hopes that the unique space they offer will attract not only children but parents who would prefer for their kids to play somewhere in the real world instead of engaging mainly with electronic devices. While this may be a risky strategy given the complicated and unpredictable environment of today’s retail industry, it is one that has resonated with investors, who are helping to fund the company’s expansion.

Camp’s bet is that even in this day and age, children are still interested in exploring physical spaces and interacting with each other in person

Digital media poses a threat to the toy industry in more ways than the popularity of online stores. Indeed, toys themselves may become less attractive to children as technology advances, as smartphones and tablets can provide a more engaging experience. And while video games have been a favorite among children for decades, recent advancements in technology have made this hobby far more widespread, as devices like iPhones and iPads grow in popularity and versatility. However, technology has also led to the collapse of physical media, as it is much more convenient to download a game, movie, or even book than it is to buy one from a retail location. Video gaming is a tremendously popular industry, and as toy stores generally sell video games as well, the fact that children are less likely to go to the toy store for video games in recent years is another factor that threatens the industry.

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Camp’s bet is that even in this day and age, children are still interested in exploring physical spaces and interacting with each other in person, but often miss opportunities to do so as they grow up in an increasingly digital environment. While traditional camp programs are expensive and can mean several weeks of separation between parents and their children, Camp is nominally free, and the company’s retail locations are in densely-populated, affluent neighborhoods, ensuring its customers don’t have to travel too far to get there. Unsurprisingly, the toys at Camp are sold at a premium to subsidize the rest of the experience. However, for many parents, the opportunity to spend some quality family time in an environment that’s fun for kids makes the added cost worth it.