From Factory to Shelf: An Inside Look at Target’s Holiday Toy Merchandising Strategies

Walking into the toy section of a store like Target during the holiday season can be overwhelming for shoppers, who are faced with toy aisle upon toy aisle of great products to choose from. Thousands of additional products can be found online. Those that make it onto store shelves during the season are often thought of as the crème de la crème, and being chosen for Target’s shelves can bring tremendous success to a toy manufacturer.

Stephanie Lucy, Target’s vice president of merchandising, chats with Elizabeth A. Reid of The Toy Book to talk about holiday merchandising strategies, how it makes its toy selections, and what Target is doing to become a top destination for holiday shopping.

The Toy Book: Let’s paint a picture of how great toys get to Target. How far in advance do you plan for each holiday season?

Stephanie Lucy: We actually start looking for content for the holiday season in September or October the year before. For example, we are going to market right now to look for products for next holiday season.

TB: So, how do you pick the toys? When you are at market, what do you look for?

SL: First of all, it starts with us evaluating what is currently working at Target—what’s selling and what’s not—and ensuring that we understand what the guest is interested in. Beyond that, it really is strong partnerships with our vendors. We do business with the largest toy manufacturers around the world. So, it’s sitting down with them and understanding what they believe the hottest toys are going to be, and what they believe content should look like for the year to come.

TB: So after you pick the toys, what comes next?

SL: A lot of it has to do with making sure we have a focused assortment. Before we even go to market and before we look at new content, [we ensure] that we have all of the items that mom would expect. So that means the great brands—from Barbie to Nerf to Hot Wheels—and great licenses. This year, as an example, there were a lot of movie releases—Thor, Transformers, Captain America, Cars 2.

It’s also about ensuring that we have relevant exclusives. We want to make sure that we are able to offer guests something different in the brands and licenses that are important to them. Lastly, it’s having a balance with our own brands, our private label brands, like Circo and Play Wonder.

We carry at any given time about 1,800 [toy] items in our stores and about 5,000 [additional toys] online. Our dot com serves as a way to have an expanded selection on the great brands, licenses, and private label content that we offer.

TB: How do you pick which toys will be in stores and which toys will be online only?

SL: The majority of our toys that are in stores are also online, and the additional 5,000 are really above and beyond. It’s really about expanding the brands that resonate with the Target guest, and I’m calling the Target guest “mom” because that is who our average guest is—a woman who has several children and is in her 40s. It’s offering more kids’ content; for example, more assortment within Barbie, larger pack sizes, but it’s also about testing and trying out new brands that might be in the marketplace. Dot com gives us a great opportunity to see whether or not the guest is really responding to those items.

TB: Say you are a smaller manufacturer and want to get into Target. Do you think online is a great way to start a new partnership?

SL: I think it depends on the content. We are always looking for new, innovative items to differentiate ourselves from the competition. And if it’s relevant, I think it depends on how that product’s story can be told, and whether it’s more viable in our stores or online.

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