[New Guide] The No-Nonsense Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy

All you need to create a winning social media strategy for your brand.

Get the guide

Published August 2nd 2016

Interview: How Toys “R” Us Uses Social Data to Unearth Powerful Consumer Insights

Brandwatch speaks to John Trenholm, Director of Consumer Insights at Toys “R” Us, about how the world-leading retailer uses social data for research

Toys “R” Us is the world’s leading specialty toy and baby products retailer, with stores in 37 countries and an annual workforce of approximately 62,000 employees worldwide.

Many of us will fondly remember visiting a Toys “R” Us store as a child and staring in wonder at the rows and rows of brightly colored delights.

The fortune 500 company is relentlessly striving to be the best toy and baby products retail company in the world, and although facing fierce competition from purely online retailers like Amazon, Toys “R” Us has the ability to offer and provide a unique and special in-store experience for its customers – something ecommerce sites simply can’t compete with.

Consumer Insights: Traditional blended with social data

We recently spoke with John Trenholm, Director of Consumer Insights at Toys“R”Us about how he brings valuable and actionable consumer insights into the business, supporting both the Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us brands across its brick-and-mortar stores, as well as its dot-com website.

2104b8aJohn typically sees consumer insights being absorbed and utilized most heavily by the marketing department, but the information John and his team gather supports the entire business from operations and merchandising through to PR and HR.

There has been tremendous excitement over the many online and mobile research methods that have emerged in the last 5-10 years, however this excitement hasn’t obsoleted traditional research methods at the retailer.

“We use quantitative and qualitative methods, predominantly online but also phone, in person and in market interviews.  We let the consumer tell us when and how they want to give us feedback.” explains John.

As a major retailer Toys “R” Us itself produces an enormous amount of data – for example point of sale data, as well as data from its loyalty card program. Alone, this data is a big repository of customer insights because it tells Toys “R” Us what the customer actually did, not what they said they did on social sites such as Twitter or Facebook.

Toys “R” Us uses Brandwatch as its social analytics partner and recently worked with us on a report on Black Friday. Some of the much talked about benefits of social data is that is can be cheaper, faster and more robust than a lot of other datasets.

For the report social data was great, because instead of going out and asking the questions and have the questions lead the witness, we got more of an unbiased response and we could really do more exploration on a massive scale.

The Black Friday report will help support  multiple departments across the business from legal, finance, marketing, manufacturers. But ultimately it will benefit consumers, because the work will let the team deliver a better, more relevant experience for consumers.

‘The report will help us make strategic decisions that will have broad impact’ says John.

Although social analytics has huge benefits John doesn’t believe social customer insights is a straight up replacement for traditional methods, but rather they support one another.

Little girl and boys playing with ball

‘There are positives to social and positives to traditional. They get me to the end result with the same quality, but in different ways. It’s a great problem to have… two great ways to answer questions and both are safe choices.’

The evolution of research

The evolution of customer research has seen methods including phone, mail, in person and online to name a few.

Many of these legacy approach suffer from the lack of efficiency and speed.

With social research the data and information is accessible quickly, however the challenge now is the way people communicate via social changes so rapidly.

Toys R Us

‘We keep evolving the methodology but the big challenge now is images and video. Social analytics platforms were built around text analysis, but the speed that the industry is moving, and the speed that these platforms and consumers are moving towards video and images is phenomenal. I heard somebody say this; ‘if a picture is worth a thousand words, how do I figure out what those thousand words are?’

Getting to actionable insights faster

Trends in the retail industry move fast. This is true for toys, as well as fashion. John is always thinking about how he can help the company move faster.

‘How can we empower the organization to insert the customer in their decision? We move so fast, sometimes we may only have two weeks to launch a new idea. So how fast can I get to insights and data that will help the business move forward?’

Thinking back to traditional research methods and working with the big legacy market research companies, John tells us projects can take a weeks upon weeks and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

‘That’s just not reasonable in today’s business environment and so this is where new technology driven partners perform well, as they’re doing things for a fraction of that cost, 25% of the cost in many cases, if not less, and on timelines measured in days, without meaningful sacrifices in quality.’ explains John.

Velocity and volume

With speed of data comes volume. Another challenge John faces is analyzing data that is being collected at a colossal scale.

Toys “R” Us is dealing with millions of pieces of data coming in every minute, if not every second. John believes this is where machine learning and technology is helping his team work more efficiently.

‘Machine learning is getting better, but how do we get at the results faster, because the process for making decisions is not slowing down. If anything, it’s getting quicker because the pressure is getting tougher.’

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 09.40.58

John feels his responsibility is to arm each division of the retailer with data and insights that will enable them to make decisions. The sharing and distribution of customer insights is a big opportunity for helping to make Toys “R” Us customer-centric across the entire business.

A further challenge for John is supplying the data in a way that makes sense to non-researchers. How can John and his team make all these online conversations more navigable and more approachable for the rest of the business?

It feels like we have industry-specific nomenclature that we are trying to force on everybody, trying to make everyone a research expert.  Instead we need to focus on making the insights approachable, plain language and most importantly, clear about how to action.

Looking to the future

Toys “R” Us is in the process of driving social to the store level, arming the store managers with social media accounts such as Instagram.

That’s hundreds of store managers posting pictures and interacting with customers on social media – yet another challenge for John, how he can take all that information and leverage it?

‘We’re going to be working with images and videos a lot more, because for better or worse the customer is much more comfortable with pictures than they are with words.’ says John.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, we’re looking forward to working with John and the team at Toys “R” Us to figure out exactly what those thousand words are.

A big thank you to John for speaking to us. This interview is one in a series with industry experts – you can expect more every week.

Share this post
Brandwatch Bulletin

Offering up analysis and data on everything from the events of the day to the latest consumer trends. Subscribe to keep your finger on the world’s pulse.

Get the data

Falcon.io is now part of Brandwatch.
You're in the right place!

Existing customer?Log in to access your existing Falcon products and data via the login menu on the top right of the page.New customer?You'll find the former Falcon products under 'Social Media Management' if you go to 'Our Suite' in the navigation.

Paladin is now Influence.
You're in the right place!

Brandwatch acquired Paladin in March 2022. It's now called Influence, which is part of Brandwatch's Social Media Management solution.Want to access your Paladin account?Use the login menu at the top right corner.