The demise of Toys R Us, which ceased operations last month, has sent the industry scrambling to try to fill both the company’s physical locations as well as its place as a destination for childhood fun.
But the end of Toys R Us also means no more Babies R Us, which was a go-to for expectant moms and excited gift-givers alike. The store was one of a handful of retailers that expectant parents turned to most often, even as many of these consumers ended up registering at multiple chains.
Last year, 40 percent of soon-to-be parents registered at Babies R Us, making the destination the No. 2 choice, tied with Amazon and behind Target at 49 percent, according to BabyCenter’s 2017 Baby Registry Trend Report. Only 19 percent of respondents used the Walmart registry and Buy Buy Baby was a go-to for just 16 percent.
One former Babies R Us shopper summed up why the chain had an edge over some others.
“I loved BRU. I am sad they are gone, although my baby days are over,” said Mary Brady, mom of three young children. “The difference between them and Target is they are baby people, they always had a ton of options and had answers for questions. Target people just know the basics.”
Seeing the opportunity the Babies R US closure left, multiple retailers are working to fill the void left by the baby resource. In recent days, both J.C. Penney and Walmart have announced expanded baby offerings with the hopes of capturing more of the roughly $11,000 parents spend during the first year of baby’s life on average. And the focus is on the top registry items, which BabyCenter says are bottles, swaddles, clothing, bath tubs, strollers, car seats and bedding.
J.C. Penney announced Thursday that it would be adding a selection of nursery must-haves to 500 doors. While the department store had been offering hard goods like cribs, high chairs and car seats online, they’ll now be in store long with feeding items, bouncer seats and activity centers from national brands like Graco, Dr. Brown’s and Halo.
Along with juvenile products, the company will be beefing up its soft goods assortments from Carter’s and Gerber as well as its newly revamped Oki Dokie private label collection.
The baby expansion is the second time JCP has expanded into Toys R Us territory. The first was a test in the toy market during Q4 of 2106. The success there led the chain to add toys into all doors last summer. The retailer has also been actively courting would-be Sears shoppers as that chain contracts with the introduction of appliances and home maintenance services.
“The baby care business is expected to reach over $13 billion by 2021 and we are seizing this opportunity to pursue available market share and aggressively go after the baby customer with these new shops,” James Starke, senior vice president and head of merchandising for J.C. Penney, said in a statement.
Though Starke didn’t name Babies R Us specifically, he did say the move was in response to the closure of a specialty baby retailer. Further, he said, JCP’s fleet of physical locations will be a differentiator in this market. “Our competition is underestimating the importance of a physical in-store baby shop and that is where J.C. Penney is going to differentiate,” he said.
That veiled reference was likely in response to Walmart’s announcement last week that it has expanded its nursery options through a new online baby destination. Though the big-box retailer has a baby department in 2,000 of its stores, the current push is online where it has curated its selection around six themes to allow parents to shop according to their tastes.
The company said it has added more than 30,000 new items to its baby offering in the last year, including hard goods from Chicco and Delta Children as well as accessories from Skip Hop’s Skiddaddle brand and sleepers from SNOO.
Walmart did not mention, or allude to, Babies R Us in its statement about the new nursery offering. It simply said that since births are up this time of year, “now is the perfect time to introduce this new shopping destination to busy families.”
The retailer has been positioning to steal share from other categories lately with the introduction of Allswell, a direct competitor to online mattress brands like Casper, and the rumored launch of an Everlane-like apparel collection.