Another fall in profits at the UK outpost of the global toy retailer could be reversed, but it requires in-store change.

News that Toys R Us in the UK has recorded its fourth successive profit drop comes as little surprise to some, it would appear. ‘It’s the internet wot done it’, seems to be the view of some, while others blame the entry by the supermarkets into the arena for the company’s woes.

“This was almost an anti-toyshop, the sort of place you’d take children to taunt them with what they’re not allowed to play with.”

John Ryan, Stores Editor

Few observers however seem to have given much thought to the Toys R Us store portfolio in this country. A visit to the Brent Cross branch yesterday served to illustrate why this is a retailer that is experiencing some difficulty. Step through the door and more or less everything is here, from Lego to Transformers. You can order online, collect in-store, benefit from a gift wrap dispensing machine (£1 for 2m) and even get a member of staff to carry your purchase out to your car in the large car park that fronts the store.

What could possibly be wrong? Well, here’s what: The reality of this store is that it has rather more in common with B&Q or Homebase than it does with, say, Hamleys. And before the inevitable cry of ‘What do you expect of an edge-of-town shed?’ is raised, here’s the counterblast: Toyshops, of whatever kind – even those that are housed in sheds on retail parks – should be a positive experience for the children who are likely to be taken around them.

To an extent, after all, this is about seeing what takes a child’s fancy and is in effect a dry run for the toys ahead of a possible purchase. Hamleys on Regent Street has this down to a fine art. Wherever you look there are members of staff demonstrating the toys that are on display and children (and yes, even adults, occasionally) are visibly enjoying themselves.

Nothing of the kind was in evidence at Toys R Us in Brent Cross, with the supermarket-like aisles serving to frustrate both children and adults as the former tried to remove toys from the shelves while their parents endeavoured to prevent them from doing so. This was almost an anti-toyshop, the sort of place you’d take children to taunt them with what they’re not allowed to play with.

And there perhaps is the issue that Toys R Us needs to confront. The web will certainly have had an effect on sales, but if the remainder of the store estate is anything like the Brent Cross branch, then there is work to be done. Toyshops should be about play as well as toys and children deserve a retail experience as much as any adult.