We visited several retailers before and after the Black Friday shopping weekend to assess their Toy department assortment. Here are the winners and losers we found…

Over the past couple of years, retailers have been jockeying for position in the wake of the Toys “R” Us bankruptcy. The battle is amplified in 2019, as the condensed holiday shopping season following a late Thanksgiving means the competition is even more intense as customers are forced to choose carefully where they dedicate their limited shopping time.  Given the amount of market share still up for grabs following the demise of Toys “R” Us, we visited a handful of retailers both leading up to Thanksgiving and again during the thick of the holiday season to see who is  best positioned to win in the Toy category this year. Here’s what we found:

Walmart – Grade: A

We weren’t surprised to see Walmart come out head and shoulders above the field in terms of their positioning for Toy sales this season. The large store footprint allows them to stock much more inventory than their competitors, and they took advantage by carrying plenty of this year’s hottest Toys. While they carried the most inventory in our baseline November survey, Walmart ramped up even further during the busy part of the holiday season by dedicating even more floor space to a mix of must-have products and prominent displays of value-focused items to further bolster their position in the retail Toy space.

Target – Grade: A-

When we visited Target before Thanksgiving we were impressed with the amount of shelf space being dedicated to a wide array of Toy categories, with solid inventory levels of all the hottest items this season. During our December visit we saw some mixed results, as those same shelves were now only half full and missing inventory of some key products and categories. However, we did see additional Toy inventory spreading out into other departments of the store, leading us to believe that strong sell-through during the first part of the month meant replenishment was needed before the last few days of holiday shopping. The crowded aisles proved that customers were responding well to the variety of popular toys on offer at Target this season, and convinced us that some bare shelves were just the aftermath of strong sales earlier in December. A clear market share gainer, even if they didn’t quite reach the peak that Walmart has.

Kohl’s – Grade: B

The surprise performer among the retailers we sampled was Kohl’s. Our initial visit showed a lackluster assortment, but once the shopping season kicked into gear Kohl’s ramped up their selection by bringing in many more popular items, particularly from key licensed properties like Frozen and Star Wars. We saw robust inventory levels that were a significant improvement from our first experience. While they may not be as well-positioned as big box stores like Walmart and Target, it’s clear that Kohl’s made the most of their opportunity to capture Toy sales this holiday season.

TJX – Grade: C

We visited both the TJ Maxx and Marshalls concepts and found somewhat of a missed opportunity, particularly following what we had seen at Kohl’s. Stores were carrying a bit more Toy inventory once the holiday season started, but in terms of merchandise assortment really fell short in terms of capturing key categories and hot items that we’d seen heavily featured at other retailers. While shelves were significantly more full compared to our visits in November, they were almost alarmingly neat and orderly. Normally such a thing would be praised, but in a condensed and busy shopping season we can only imagine it means disappointing sell-through and a lack of interest from shoppers.

Burlington – Grade: C-

Similar to TJ Maxx and Marshalls, we unfortunately didn’t see too much compelling merchandise at Burlington. Inventory levels had certainly grown since our prior visit, as the Toy department occupied a fairly large swath of prime real estate in the middle of the store but the lack of hot items was immediately clear. Why a lower grade than TJX then? If there’s one thing worse than eerily neat shelves, it’s completely messy shelves. Unlike Target where missing items were clearly the result of strong sales, here we found all the inventory was still present, just unorganized and spread all over the (actual) floor. We considered searching through the rubble in case there were some Frozen toys hidden underneath, but decided to just let it go.