Retales: Stories from the Changing Landscape of Brick and Mortar Stores

Toys "R" Us
JERSEY CITY, NEW JERSEY – JULY 11: A view of Macy’s Toys “R” Us on July 11, 2022 in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Macy’s, Inc. )

COR3 came up in the world of retail architecture and with it, have endured the highs and lows of our pandemic economy. After the immediate impacts of COVID-19, the whiplash of supply chain woes and inflation will surely be studied by economists for decades to come. 

We found it curious how big of a splash the news made in the media given the prevalence of SWAS since well before the pandemic began. In fact, the concept really first appeared as a reaction to the impact of e-commerce and stores looking to reduce their physical size when shopping shifted online. And the idea is even older when considering the pop-up set ups within department stores in cosmetics. 

Brands like Kohl’s developed creative strategies to partner with the e-commerce goliaths like Amazon by striking a deal in 2017 to allow for the physical return of Amazon purchases in their stores. The partnership allowed for the acceptance of Amazon returns without a box or a label, making it incredibly easy for customers while offering Kohl’s discount coupons in return. As a result, by 2020 two million new customers visited the stores and a third of them were millennials. 

Beauty brands like Sephora and Ulta have also capitalized on the idea with SWAS locations within Target and Kohls. 

But perhaps some of the interest around Toys ‘R’ Us is in part due to the heavy nostalgia associated with the stores and the millennial following whose childhood is so connected with the brand. As we discussed the toy store’s return around the office, we all shared stories about the trips we would take with our parents to reward good deeds, or physically picking out our birthday gifts with cash in hand from grandma. With all the upheaval of our world in the past three years, the yearning for the comfort of “simpler times” is perhaps what is allowing Toys ‘R’ Us to stage such a comeback. 

As architects, the change affects us little since most of the adjustments are on the design side of the house for already built out space. However, this development is still quite relevant to our industry, as we stay ready to help our clients design for whatever the future will bring. 

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