Retailing

Cash for Cribs? Toys 'R' Us Offers Trade-Ins


In a marketing campaign that sounds a lot like the wildly successful cash-for-clunkers car program—but for kids' products—store chain Toys "R" Us has launched what it is calling the Great Trade-In. Consumers can bring their used high chairs, strollers, cribs, and such to Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us stores nationwide and get 20% off the cost of a similar new item from 16 manufacturers such as Graco and Eddie Bauer. The program starts on Aug. 28 and runs through Sept. 20.

If the campaign resembles the recently ended clunkers campaign, which enticed people to trade in their old cars for new ones with federally funded cash rebates, Toys "R" Us spokeswoman Kathleen Waugh says that's just a coincidence. The retailer began thinking up the campaign two years ago on the heels of recalls for toys that had lead paint on them, she says.

According to research from the advocacy group Kids In Danger, fewer than 30% of all children's products that get recalled actually get returned to the manufacturers. An ever-expanding list of recalled products is available at the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Web site.

Wooing Buyers Away from Used Goods Now that the economy's in the dumps, the toy chain also can use such a program to get parents to buy new products rather than relying on hand-me-downs or ones bought used on Craigslist and eBay. Toys "R" Us lost $35 million on sales of $2.7 billion in the quarter that ended May 2. Those sales were down 9% from a year earlier.

Toys "R" Us says buying used toys and other kids' products can be a problem if parents don't check to see whether the used items are subject to a recall. It's also a problem if the parents don't have all the parts or the instruction booklets and don't assemble them correctly. Car seats involved in accidents could be damaged in ways that aren't obvious. Many kids' products also have expiration dates. Baby products in general are constantly being updated with the latest designs for safety. (If a toy was recalled, an owner may get a full refund from the manufacturer. But as Waugh noted, some manufacturers have gone out of business and some recalled products may not qualify for full refunds.)

"Because of the economy people are trying to sell items at garage sales," Waugh notes. "They could be pulling something out of the garage that could be 20 years old. Safety standards have improved."

Toys "R" Us says the used products that are traded in "will be disposed of properly so they cannot be put back into circulation."

Palmeri is a reporter for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Businessweek in Los Angeles.

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