Toys “R” Us recently created a totally out of the box—or cage—digital push when it sponsored the live feed of upstate New York-based Animal Adventure Park’s April the giraffe’s pregnancy and birth of her calf. With the viral success of the marketing stunt still reverberating, the global toy retailer is now channeling its social media clout into a wholly revamped e-commerce strategy.
As part of a US$100-million, three-year investment to jump-start online sales—and a direct move to compete with Amazon, Walmart and Target—TRU has plans in motion to revamp and launch a new e-commerce site, after admitting its previous efforts had fallen short in terms of customer experience. Still, while TRU same-store sales were down 1.4% in fiscal 2016, the company’s e-commerce division saw sales grow by 11% for the full year. That may be due, in part, to a 2015 move to bring its then-US$1.2-billion US e-commerce business in-house, after nine years of outsourcing to a third party.
The new platform has started to roll out slowly and will be fully available in July. Among the new features are a refreshed registry service, better search functionality and a faster, more responsive design. There will be new navigation capabilities with drop-down menus to make it easier to find items, as well as category pages with richer and larger images to allow customers to have a better view of what they’re purchasing. The checkout has also been condensed from five steps to two for a faster experience.
“We reached out to the zoo and spoke to them about the idea of us sponsoring the feed, and they said they were actually anxiously waiting to hear from Toys “R” Us and that they wanted to work with us,” says Disler. “We drafted up a sponsorship with them that put our Toys “R” Us Geoffrey the Giraffe logo front and center.”
Not only did TRU put its own logo on the feed, but Disler and Cognetta started heading to the zoo to create original content that included interviews with the zookeepers and Facebook live videos after the calf, Tajiri, was born.
“We had more than 23 million video views across all our social channels on this original content, and our post-engagement content on Facebook and Twitter was up 2,000% over the span of one month—all because of April and the content we produced,” says Cognetta. The stream began on February 23 and became the second-most watched live-stream in YouTube history, pulling in more than 232 million views and 7.6 billion minutes of live watch time. It was taken down last month after April twisted her ankle and too many concerned viewers called into the zoo, interfering with daily functions. But the archived version of the birth has been seen more than 14 million times to date.
The store is not abandoning April, even though the live feed is down. As a part of the sponsorship, it also put money into giraffe conservation efforts—and naturally, the retailer has rolled out giraffe-themed toys.
“I think it was a real success just to bring further awareness to our brand and reinvigorate Geoffrey in a sense, making him even more relatable to younger kids and to people who had grown up with him just as we certainly have,” says Disler. “It was a lot of fun for us to be a part of.”
TRU is keeping tight-lipped on what its next digital efforts may bring beyond its new e-commerce site, but Disler says she’s keeping her ear to the ground for the next potential viral hit.