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Did Toys “R” Us deserve its fate?



If you strip away the nostalgia associated with a company like Toys “R” Us, its demise becomes inevitable in hindsight. Behind the overwhelming charm of toy shopping lies a harsh truth: retailers like Toys “R” Us have failed because they simply couldn’t keep up. The most successful modern retailers are continually evolving to meet customer needs and expectations as they arise. Call it survival of the fittest – or the fastest –, but today, it takes a capacity to constantly adapt to make it in the retail industry.

It’s not just Toys “R” Us. We’ve seen the same trend occur with retailers like Radio Shack and Sears. What do these brands have in common, besides their once-frequent cameos in strip malls across America? To begin, their stores were cramped, lacked aesthetic design, and were difficult to navigate. On top of that, they lacked the forward-thinking mindset to implement technologies that focused on improving the customer experience and back end systems early on.

With more, easier, and cheaper options available for buying toys than ever before, Toys “R” Us had one outstanding quality that kept customers hooked: the experience. The experience of walking through a toy store with your kids and the joy of the anticipation of play, coupled with the nostalgia of remembering when you were a kid at the toy store with your parents.

Instead of preserving the magic of the experiences customers treasured, Toys “R” Us let their stores grow stale and disappointing. This became evident to me last Christmas when I walked into a Toys “R” Us in Vancouver to shop for my niece. The store associates were either impossible to find or unapproachable and the inventory selection was significantly weaker than on Amazon. When I did find something, I was told there was no stock left (after the associate spent 15 minutes in the back looking for the item). Finally, as I reluctantly checked out, I wanted to use my sister-in-law's phone number so she could collect the points. But of course, the system didn't allow that. This experience told me all I needed to know.

Had Toys “R” Us truly been focused on engaging customers in the brand, they could have implemented personalization, both in-store and online, through artificial intelligence, and loyalty programs offering suggestions and discounts. Toys “R” Us deserved to die because it was holding the retail industry in place, not moving it forward.

Giants like Amazon and Walmart have been using technology to provide their customers with the exact shopping experience they want, converting each person who visits their physical and online stores from passive shopper to an active consumer of their brands. They’re not hiding their use of these tools, either – Jeff Bezos references machine learning and AI more than 10 times in the 2016 Amazon annual report. That’s because, in 2018, it’s essential to Amazon’s business model. The ease and efficiency of finding and buying what you want is what keeps Amazon’s customers coming back.

Amazon also handles its investments drastically differently than old-school retailers by taking significant bets (think investments like Alexa and Whole Foods). Amazon can do this because of its ability to put cash flow into big-bet investments, which allows the company to see greater returns and to continue to invest in innovations that make the shopping experience more fluid and enjoyable.

Part of Toys “R” Us’s demise has to do with poor financial management, which allowed a heavy sum of cash flow to go towards private equity and paying debts. This left little room for investment in consumer-driven technologies. Funds that should have gone into automation and AI facilitating consumer engagement were instead pulled away. Most recently, Congress blamed Private Equity firms for this mismanagement, stating the possibility that this was a purposeful move to ensure leveraged buyouts. And as “Such buyouts harm communities, while investment managers walk away with significant gains,” according to Congress, this possibility has been even more hyped as an issue.

So what can today’s retailers learn from the mistakes of a defeated toy dynasty? Most importantly, never expect customers to act the same way twice. Trends and markets will constantly change the way consumers behave. With technologies to predict and adapt to these changes, adoption of new modes of learning is no longer just beneficial – it’s essential. When it comes to dated retail practices, there are times when not even a mascot as charming as Geoffrey the Giraffe has the power to save a company.

Kerry Liu is the chief executive of Rubikloud

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JWT partners with University of Sydney to explore tech-driven creativity



J. Walter Thompson has formed a partnership with the University of Sydney to explore how technology can be applied to the creative process and develop creative solutions for digital transformation in China.

The partnership will kick off in December 2018 with an Industry and Community Project Unit (ICPU), that will see 16 University of Sydney students from interdisciplinary areas form small teams to develop creative, ethical and context-sensitive solutions over four-week intensive courses. The University introduced ICPUs earlier this year, to provide units of study based on authentic problems and issues set out by industry, community and government organizations.

Students will be based in Sydney for the first week, where they work through the project brief, background research, and information, as well as country information. They then undertake intensive targeted research with their project groups. During weeks two and three, students will work in Shanghai with JWT China.

The final week will be spent back in Sydney, where they write up their assessment task and undertake interactive workshops to encourage critical reflection on their experience and transferability to career development.

“Ultimately the partnership will work towards what actions creative agencies can take now to deliver efficiencies across their business, and to ensure creativity is able to effectively adapt to the implementation of artificial intelligence and new technologies,” said Carter Chow, the chief executive officer of JWT China.

“We're particularly interested in exploring the connection between human and machine learning and how this will change roles in the future. We hope this is the start of many innovative and future-facing topics that both JWT China and the University of Sydney can work together on solving for the creative industry.”

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Circles.Life unveils Discover, its new AI-powered lifestyle feature



Digital telco Circles.Life has launched an AI-powered feature called Discover in its app to allow customers to explore interesting events happening around the city.

According to the Singapore-based telco, the more Discover is used, the smarter it gets in recommending events that users are most likely to go to. This new feature, which is personalised based on the interests of individuals is available for everyone, including users who are not Circles.Life’s mobile customers.

It is optimised for local events in Singapore, enabling users to explore trending events in the country, customises the event suggestions based on the users’ interests and allows users to share the events on social media, and invite their friends.

“Circles.Life is setting up the world’s most personalized digital platform leveraging its innovative telco stack and proprietary data platform,” said Rameez Ansar, the co-founder of Circles.Life.

“Two years after the launch of what is now the leading no-contract mobile service in Singapore, we are taking a step further. Discover is the first AI-powered product outside our core mobile service. It is available for ALL users inside the Circles.Life app!”

Last month, in an attempt to get consumers to re-evaluate the value of a mobile contract and challenge the assumption that it always saves them money, Circles.Life explained to The Drum why it used the country’s favourite food, chicken rice, to prove its point.

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10 questions with… Carter Murray, chief executive of FCB



The Drum speaks to people across the global media and marketing sector who are bringing something a little different to the industry and talks to them about what little insights they can offer the rest of us. This week's 10 Questions are answered by FCB chief executive, Carter Murray.

What was your first ever job?

My first ever job was cleaning boats. My first proper, steady job, however, was as an assistant account executive at Leo Burnett Chicago.

Which industry buzzword annoys you most?

“Guru” (as in “marketing guru”). Most people called gurus actually are not. And this misnomer often causes havoc within client organizations and the creative process more generally.

Who would you most love to share a coffee with?

My mother and father. I lost them both two years ago, within six months of each other, and still miss them terribly.

Highlight of your career (so far?)

The first was getting to work with Harry MacAuslan, THE gentleman of advertising (now retired) and the second was persuading Susan Credle to come to FCB and be my creative partner.

What piece of tech can you not live without?

Sadly (and my wife will very much attest to this) – it's my bloody telephone.

What is (in your opinion) the greatest film/album/book of your life?

Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay. I read it when I was thirteen and it absolutely got to me. I loved the boxing, wildlife, Africa and personal narratives, but most of all, the constant reminder to “think first with your head and then with your heart.”

What one question do you never want anyone to ask you?

Why are you so obsessed with dim sum?

Best advice you ever heard or received?

Shut up and listen.

What do you still want to achieve in your career?


What industry event is most important to you to attend and why?

Cannes. It saves me multiple trips around the world, as everyone is centralized there, and I get to talk about our industry with some of the most groundbreaking work all around us, to inspire and push us to always do better. It’s always long and busy work hours, but it all happens in a ridiculously civilized setting.

Check out other interviews as part of the 10 Questions With… series.

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