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Toys 'R' Us rolls out incentives to draw shoppers early

Halloween is still weeks away, but Toys "R'' Us wants shoppers to start thinking about Christmas.

The major toy retailer is giving rewards members 10 percent back on store and online purchases, up to $100, through Oct. 31. Customers will receive a gift card for their earned amount via email in mid November.

The incentives are part of the store's efforts to get customers to shop early — and often — and mirror what many retailers are doing to lengthen the shopping season for people on tight budgets. Last week, Walmart unveiled its top holiday toys list.

During a holiday preview event, Toys "R" Us chief merchandising officer Richard Barry said the chain is working to offset "significant headwinds'' this year by focusing on top-selling categories. It's devoting more space to educational toys, tablets and construction toys (Legos and Mega Bloks) and reducing areas for electronics, video games and other products that didn't do so great last year.

Based on the huge growth of tablet sales and accessories, stores are adding mini shops with 25 different tablets parents and kids can test out. Stores will have an aisle dedicated to telescopes, language programs and other new learning products, and many stores will have their own Lego shops. Anything bought now can be returned through Jan. 25 under a new extended return policy.

The changes come as the toy store tries to rebound from a drop in sales last year. Many were based on a recent store survey that found people like to shop early to ensure they get what their kids want without the panic and chaos of last-minute shopping.

Makes sense, I suppose, so long as you don't mind seeing holiday ads in September. To get us in the spirit, Thursday through Saturday, Toys "R'' Us is offering 20 percent off most items.

Tampa Bay's first West Elm home furnishings store opens at 10 a.m. Thursday at Hyde Park Village in Tampa.

To celebrate, West Elm is giving away cool-looking "Hello Tampa'' tote bags by Lakeland-based Vicarious Clothing to the first 300 shoppers who spend $50. Customers can also register for a chance to win a $2,000 gift card.

Located on the Village Circle in the former Williams-Sonoma spot, the 8,792-square-foot store has a diverse mix of furniture, home decor, gifts and artwork, much of it inspired by nature. A lot of people, myself included, know West Elm through its catalog, which is how the retailer got its start in 2002. It's part of the same company that owns Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn.

Hyde Park Village seems to be on a slight upswing, with the addition of West Elm and several newish tenants in the Snow Circle loop (Albisia's Jewelry, Don Me Now, High Cotton Living, Navy, White Magnolia Bridal Collection). Word on the street is that the shopping center has been sold. Management officials haven't responded to inquiries.

The village went on the market in May.

The U.S. Postal Service has opened a store on eBay.

While history buffs might like bidding on a 1971 stamp proof of the Antarctic Treaty, anyone looking to mail their electric bill should beware. A book of 20 stamps costs $9.20, plus $1.25 for shipping and handling, the same as the Postal Service's website.

Call me cheap, but I refuse to pay a fee to buy stamps and never, ever buy them at retailers that charge more than face value. Instead, I order stamps through the mail through an order form available at post offices. My carrier delivers them for free.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com, (813) 225-3110 or @susan_thurston on Twitter.

Toys 'R' Us rolls out incentives to draw shoppers early 09/16/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 7:43am]
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