- Toys R Us, the retail chain that last month filed for bankruptcy protection with $5 billion in debt, debuted a mobile application called Play Chaser that uses augmented reality (AR) to add greater interactivity to the in-store shopping experience, USA Today reported. The AR activities went live at 23 store locations this week, with plans for a nationwide rollout on Oct. 21.
- The new activities can be opened at 13 stations throughout each store. Geoffrey, the retailer's giraffe mascot, greets customers virtually and gives them instructions on what to do. Flashing icons and stickers on the floor guide young shoppers, who are asked to point a tablet or smartphone at a scannable sign on a shelf, at which point a toy or activity comes to life on the screen.
- CEO Dave Brandon said the AR experience was being developed months before the company filed for Chapter 11 protection. Making the retailer's 1,600 stores more interactive is a key part of its turnaround, he told USA Today.
Toys R Us has struggled to compete with discount chains like Walmart and e-commerce companies like Amazon that offer lower prices and free shipping to attract shoppers. Apps, however, have grown to become a major source of entertainment for kids as mobile devices like smartphones and tablets continue to surge in popularity. Toys R Us also retains certain advantages over the online competition in providing a massive showroom for toys and games that lets consumers see, touch and sometimes test products before buying. AR technology provides a newer platform for the brand to interact with these digitally native children who've grown up accustomed to mobile devices.
The AR activities delivered via the Play Chaser app are one of the more interesting and innovative applications of the technology to the retail space amid a deluge of offerings pouring out from new platforms like Apple's ARKit. Kids can do things like adopt a virtual version of a baby doll that's for sale on the shelves, or visit a basketball station to shoot hoops via the swipe of a screen and compare scores with other players on a leaderboard. In a rewards-based strategy to encourage users to continue playing, these activities let kids rack up points to unlock more experiences.
Toys R Us plans to open playrooms at 42 stores that let children try out games and gadgets while toy demonstrators are nearby to answer questions and introduce similar products they might enjoy, per USA Today. Whether these efforts will help Toys R Us lift sales during this holiday season remains to be seen, especially since top toy competitors will also certainly run major promotions.