My last trip to Toys’R’Us – RIP

I paid for my purchases – a large box of overnight Huggies for my toddler, and two large Lego Duplo sets we don’t need – with $110 from a gift card, and $15 from a credit card. I felt a little relieved to use up the gift card before the 30-day deadline, when gift cards would lose their value.
As the clerk accepted my payments, my husband and I continued our running debate about the Toys’R’Us bankruptcy. What assets would be valuable to a company like Amazon. What could have been done to save TRU. As we collected our three boxes and turned to leave, the clerk quietly asked a question: “Why don’t people come in to shop anymore? I don’t get it.”
I felt immediately sympathetic and a little bad. The most I had to lose in the TRU bankruptcy was $110 of unused gift card currency and some nostalgic value. This poor woman was about a month away from losing her job. “It’s convenient,” I said somewhat apologetically. “It all just shows up on your doorstep.”
She looked genuinely confused. “But how can you buy everything without seeing it first? Like I once ordered shoes online and when they came I didn’t like them so I took them back to the store.”
She had a point. Most things that we have not already selected are better purchased in person or at least not on A good buyer and merchant team can provide an excellent selection of tempting options at retail – although US retail has only a few fleeting examples where this happens at scale.
I wished her good luck, and we left the store – the whole chain – for ever.
I am regretful. I accepted the woman’s premise that Amazon is the reason for TRU’s demise. That’s not the whole story though. Amazon was clearly a formidable competitor that TRU wasn’t able to effectively counter. But TRU had its hands tied long before Amazon became a powerful seller of toys. TRU was saddled with a tremendous debt load so that it could be a cash machine for its new owners. There was little room for reinvestment or change under private equity owners Bain Capital, KKR, and Vornado, even if TRU had had good leadership (which unfortunately, large retail chains often do not). So when the tides of change in mass retail came in more quickly in recent years, TRU could not respond. That’s why it is dying.
That’s also why Nine West filed for bankruptcy on April 6. And Claire’s in March. The list goes on.
I get why private equity bought these large retail chains, and why the banks let them put so much debt on them. It’s easy to view retail stores as cash machines. They generate lots of cash. If management is skilled at optimizing their inventory and cash, retail companies can benefit from paying their bills after they have already collected payment from customers. But like most organizations, for profit or not, they have to keep up with the times to remain strong. Saddling them with huge debt and taking all their cash makes it hard for them to change and grow.
That’s the story that I wish I could have told our cashier.
But if I had, I doubt it would actually have been very helpful. Virtually nobody can reverse the tide. There are many more bankruptcies to come. And the folks who are causing them get to walk away while the folks at the registers lose their jobs.
That’s just not right.
For further reference, Business Insider provides good overviews:

“Your Platinum Elite Benefits Have Arrived”

Marriott International mailed out Elite tier notices for 2018. I’m short of the 75 nights required for Platinum, but was granted the level anyhow. I appreciate it, Marriott!Marriott

The perks of Platinum Elite level are listed under the heading “Benefits You’ll Love.” Wow, that’s ambitious. Let’s see how much I do love them.

There are four added Benefits for Platinum Elites that aren’t available for Gold Elites:

1/ Complimentary United MileagePlus Premier Silver Status
2/ Platinum arrival gift
3/ 48-hour reservation guarantee
4/ Dedicated Platinum reservation line

In addition, Platinum Elites get a 50% bonus on Rewards base points (vs. 25% for Golds), and Five Star status on Hertz Gold Plus Rewards (vs. Gold for, well, Golds).

Of these, I think I value most the incremental 25% bonus on Rewards points. But I find Rewards points to be a bit confusing, and I don’t ever do the math on what 50% is vs. 25%. I think if I ever went back and added up the bonus points I got as a Platinum vs. if I were a Gold, it wouldn’t add up to a free night at a property I frequent. I guess this is a perk that just sounds good to me.

The others…don’t even sound good.

1/ I have MileagePlus 1K status, thanks mostly to my home airport being a United hub, so Silver is hardly a sweetener.
2/ The Platinum arrival gift is 500 points or a bottled beverage (or similar treat). Some properties give one or the other, some give both. It’s not consistent. Some desk agents look totally unimpressed when they offer the benefit, which further diminishes the experience of getting the “Benefit.”
3/ I’ve never been able to not get a reservation, inside or outside of 48 hours. I guess it’s because I’m not tied to a particular property at a destination. Most cities offer many good options, and I’m fine not staying at a Marriott.
4/ I think a dedicated reservation line would be valuable if I called in my bookings, but with one exception, I always use the website. So that’s another miss.

As for the Hertz tier, that’s potentially useful, but I’m not brand loyal when it comes to rental car companies. Maybe it is useful? Sounds like it’ll require some work to determine – i.e., time that I’m not eager to spend.

Marriott is perhaps the only business that I frequent whose top loyalty tier isn’t particularly better than the second tier. That’s too bad. If it were better, I’d try harder to actually stay 75 nights.

The image is my own photograph of the brochure I received by mail.

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