Geek Speak: Roto Arigato

Hey guys, it's Will again. You may remember me from my last post, where I explained the Toys "Я" Us Bump Up Program. Well, I'm back to tell you about another aspect of TRU that's not very commonly known.

Have you ever gone to a Toys "Я" Us store late in the week, only to find that the item you're looking for isn't on the shelf? Just because it's not on the shelf doesn't mean that it's out of stock. Don't even try to ask an employee, 'cause he/she's just going to say they don't have any. If you do happen to find one of the nice ones, he/she's gonna be smacked down by a supervisor. What's with all of the subterfuge? Well, there's a good chance the item you're looking for is on what's known as "roto hold".

In the Toys "Я" Us world, the weekly circular is known as a "roto." Years ago, rotos weren't too common, as TRU didn't traditionally have sales. They had clearance, but they weren't in the competitive pricing game. Who cares if Ames had the GI Joe General for $39.99? We all knew they were out of stock, so TRU could stick to their price guns. In fact, rotos were almost seasonal in occurrence. There was a Spring/Easter roto, a Summer Roto, a Fall/Back to School roto, and then you kicked into high gear with a Halloween one, followed by the Big Toy Book, followed by the "Green Friday" (TRU doesn't like to refer to it as "Black Friday") one.

In recent years, the weekly roto has become commonplace. It seems like the Hasbro "2 for $10.99" sale is something by which one could set their watch. The rotos tend to feature the biggest and most popular toys, but they also help to unload stock, like the aforementioned Hasbro sale. Maybe it's touting the debut of a new game system. Maybe a new Megazord just came out. Either way, the roto's job is to get you into the store for that hot item, in the hopes that you'll buy some other stuff while you're in the store.

The trick to all of this, however, is that there's rarely enough stock to meet the demand on that hot toy. Maybe it's a distribution problem on the manufacturer's end, or maybe there's a back up at the TRU warehouse. So, the roto is sent to stores about a week in advance of the date that the circular's prices/deals go into effect. If a shipment of that hot toy is delivered to the store during that week, it's immediately put on roto hold, where none of the items can be put on the floor until the date of the roto.

You see, at one time, this whole thing would've been settled via a raincheck. Nowadays, rainchecks aren't really used anymore, and TRU doesn't want someone trying to accuse them of false advertising. So, the purpose of the roto hold is to ensure that stock is in the store at the time that the circular goes into effect. It is not, however, designed to ensure adequate stock, nor does it mean you'll actually find the item on shelves if you happen to go later in the week. If the roto goes into effect Sunday morning, the store just has to make sure the item's on shelves when the doors open Sunday morning. If it sells out in an hour, oh well - the store got its money. Better luck next time.

Remember when you couldn't find a Wii, and a manager casually told you that there'd be a shipment Sunday? Roto hold. They don't know what's on a truck until it gets there with a manifest. Those things are in the back, waiting for their Sunday on-shelf date.

So, I guess you're asking "What can I do?" Honestly, nothing. It's a corporate mandate, and store employees are just following orders. I can say, however, that your best bet is to hit stores earlier in the week. Sunday morning is when the roto would go into effect, but you still might be OK on a Monday. Tuesday's too late, and Wednesday might as well be Saturday. As you can see, time works differently in the toy world. In many areas, the circular "guts" of the newspaper actually come on Saturday, so that gives you plenty of time to see if what you're looking for is listed in the roto set to go into effect the following day. Also, "roto hold" isn't terminology commonly used by shoppers. I use it because I used to work for TRU, so it might behoove you to ask an employee if the item is, in fact, on roto hold. By using the terminology, they might think you're with the company, and level with you a bit.

I've got nothing to gain here. At the end of the day, I'm a collector just like you. I've come to realize that this whole collecting thing could go a lot smoother if we helped each other out instead of seeing each other as competition. I'm just doing my part, so I hope it might help you in your search. Hopefully, I'll see ya in the toy aisle!

--Will

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3 Responses to Geek Speak: Roto Arigato

  1. Paul Nomad says:

    Have you done an article on TRU's toy destruction program yet?

  2. PrfktTear says:

    Nice write up!

    Its no secret that stores run “come-on” sales to try and draw people in the hopes that they’ll spend spend spend! Usually I’ll try to scope out the circulars that come in the Saturday newspapers if I’m looking for something specific and compare sales from both weeks. That way I can find out whether I should wait until the next week’s sale goes into effect or not.

  3. The concept certainly makes sense for TRU and sucks for us. Especially those of us who can't wake up early enough on Sunday mornings!

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