In our first special report on retail, KidScreen assigned four reporters in four different U.S. centers-New Jersey, Chicago, Los Angeles and Tucson-to examine and rate the merchandising of children’s interactive software and videos. They looked at everything from customer service to in-store displays to the way companies were branding their products at the retail level. We included major chains and small independent stores, computer specialty shops and bookstores.
Borders Books, Chicago, Illinois
When entering Borders Books in Chicago, it’s abundantly clear that this is one of those vast superstores with printed matter as its main focus: The new media section was tucked into a second-floor corner, next to the books on tape.
Yet, the locale didn’t seem to put a dent in the service or selection in the department. The children’s software was arranged on back-to-back book shelves, with one side reading PC and the other Mac. (Any potentially violent teen games were mixed in with adult titles, a move to avoid complaints from concerned parents, but also a missed marketing opportunity.) The children’s educational and entertainment titles were mixed together, starting with the youngest titles on the left and ending with the preteen titles on the far end. Displays were limited to popular titles showcased on the top shelf and a large end-aisle ‘Cat in the Hat’ cut-out promoting Random House/Broderbund Software’s Living Books CD-ROMs for kids.
Within two minutes, a salesperson appeared and proved knowledgeable and patient. After asking if I was looking for Mac or PC software, she immediately suggested three safe-bet brand names: Living Books, Davidson & Associates and The Learning Company. She showed how The Learning Company’s Reader Rabbit’s Interactive Reading Journey allows parents to track their child’s reading performance, and with 40 different stories included, she believed this was something kids wouldn’t tire of quickly.
By far the best thing about the department was Borders’ demo program. A high-end PC and a Mac stood ready for customers to try out about a hundred different titles, about half of which were kids titles (a preteen boy who was camped out there immersed in an action-adventure game would probably agree). The saleswoman seemed particularly proud of this program because it was often up to her to spot a popular title and obtain a free copy from the publisher. ‘Have you heard of You Don’t Know Jack by Berkeley?’ she asked. ‘Well, I heard about it and called them. And once we started demoing it,’ she explained, ‘we sold out.’ Disney, she noted, was the only company that refused to participate in the program.