Around this time of year, 13 years ago I would have already received The Great Big Christmas Book in the mail from Toys R Us. The second I heard the mail carrier place the mail into the slot, I would bolt to the door, eager to see if it had been delivered. As my family looked on, I would list the items I wanted from the catalog. We would visit Santa Claus in the mall, and I would confide in him about which gifts I was wishing for. There would be a trip to Toys R Us to go toy shopping and gawk at the elaborate holiday decorations. So much excitement was in the air.
Such an event will not happen this year, not only because I am almost 22 and do not want the Polly Pockets and Furbies I once did, but also because June 2018 brought the closure of Toys R Us after it “suffocated under a devastating $5 billion debt load before liquidating its assets this year.”
And while online toy shopping is certainly convenient, it does rob children of some experiences they could have had. Because of online shopping, children around the world will never have the opportunity to, say, walk around a toy store. Instead, they will look at toys projected onto their parents’ iPads, smartphones and computers.
So, in memoriam of Toys R Us and the romanticism of in-person toy shopping, here are five ways children miss out when they go online toy shopping.
1. Children’s imaginations are limited.
With the help of toy stores, children were able to see their dreams come to life. Whether it was a Ferris wheel with Dora the Explorer and M&M’s aboard it, displays of Barbie dolls dancing in ballerina costumes or train sets waiting for children to play with them, a whole world once awaited children in the toy stores they visited.
Now, toy shopping means watching their parents click on the particular toy they want. Their belief in Santa Claus can even be limited, because now, it’s not just Santa Claus who delivers toys to their house. Even if children walked from the store empty-handed, they were able to have the chance to simply forget about the world around them and play.
2. Few stores are able to appeal just to children.
Because there is not much demand for physical toy stores, fewer stores are able to solely cater to children. The department stores that sell toys cannot focus only on the needs and desires of the children they serve. Rather, they are limited to a section, selling clothing, house decor and furniture, along with toys.
Stores like Toys R Us and FAO Schwartz served as a playground for children to explore freely with toys around every corner. Now, no matter where they go toy shopping, children do not get the same message I did when I walked into Toys R Us: This is a store for me.
3. Children do not learn as many social skills.
Parents can quickly swipe through a few screens and find exactly what they want online. They do not get the opportunity to talk with their kids on the way to the store about the toys they want, nor do they get to explain to them how to conduct themselves once they get to the toy store. Parents cannot entertain their children’s imaginations as they peruse the store and see all of the sights, valuable moments they will treasure for a lifetime.
Kids do not get the chance to talk with workers and ask them about where an item is, learn how to ask questions politely or strike up a conversation with the cashier and thank them. Instead, they tell their parents what they want or list what they want as part of a wish list and call it a day. They get their toy in the mail and play with it, often solitarily. Kids miss out on lessons they could use forever.
4. Kids don’t get to learn about the “spirit of giving.”
Toy stores are known for supporting organizations that provide gifts for children with parents in the military and children who are less fortunate financially. Customers of Toys R Us and Babies R Us had been key contributors to the program called Toys for Tots, and in sight of the store’s bankruptcy, it is truly a blow to Toys for Tots. The organization is now forced to find other means for donations, because many of them were dependent upon the donations of Toys R Us customers each year.
Kids had the chance to choose a toy for the child in need and go through the process with a parent or guardian to wrap it and place it into donation boxes. They could walk away feeling important about what they just did. Amazon’s feature of shopping for a cause, AmazonSmile, removes the gratifying social aspect children could have benefited from.
5. Amazon just isn’t the same.
This Christmas, Amazon, one of Toys R Us’ main rivals, is said to be “going conventional with plans to publish a holiday toy catalog,” which “will be mailed to millions of U.S. households and handed out at Whole Foods Market locations.” This sounds promising, because reading through a toy catalog in its tangible form lent itself to a certain kind of excitement. I could dog-ear the pages I was most interested in, and, in that way, I knew Santa, my parents or my grandmother would know the toys I wanted and possibly get them for me.
An Amazon toy catalog does not, however, mean that it lives up to the true toy store experience. Children still have to depend on an online service without faces that could smile along with them and share the excitement. Now, the only possible interaction children would have would be in a phone call to or online chat with customer service.
Kids cannot ask questions about their toys or plan their donations for another child. They don’t get to feel the excitement on the car ride to the store, and they don’t get to open the doors to a festively decorated, toy-filled wonderland. The only way Amazon, or any other virtual toy store, will ever be able to replace these meaningful experiences would be to create an actual toy store.