Parents-to-be with Babies R Us registries in liquidation limbo
Right after Christmas, Danielle Stevens and her husband drove an hour and half to the nearest Babies R Us to start a registry for their first child. The main draw, Stevens said, was the company's "endless earnings" program, which promised 10 percent cash back in the form of a gift card following their baby's birth.
They picked out $3,500 worth of items, including a $400 crib and $500 dresser. Stevens also signed up for a Toys R Us credit card, hoping to score additional rewards on future purchases.
"We were dead set on buying everything from Babies R Us once we found out about their rewards programs," said Stevens, 28, of Sumner, Illinois. "Diapers aren't cheap, so we thought of this as a little savings program for items our baby will need after she's born."
But last week Toys R Us announced it was planning to close all of its U.S. stores after six months in bankruptcy, leaving thousands of families like the Stevens in limbo. The retailer, which mails out gift cards 12 weeks after a baby's due date, has said it will stop accepting gift cards and other rewards in mid-April. Stevens, whose baby is due in June, says that means she will miss out on roughly $300 in rewards she has racked up over the past three months.
Her calls to the company have gone unanswered, she said, as have requests to receive some of her rewards early so she can use them in the next month. Toys R Us has said in court filings that it hopes to find a buyer for its online business, but has provided few details beyond that.
"This has been incredibly frustrating," said Stevens, who works in marketing. "We really just want answers."
Toys R Us, which is in the process of closing or selling all 735 of its U.S. stores, did not respond to requests for comment. But others in the baby industry say they're seeing the fallout of the company's liquidation plans.
Buybuy Baby, a competing chain owned by Bed Bath & Beyond, says it is helping Babies R Us shoppers recreate their registries, and is giving out free WubbaNub pacifiers to shoppers who take them up on the offer. Babylist, a site that allows families to combine multiple registries in one place, says as many as 500 people a day are transferring their registries from Babies R Us. The company is offering to help parents with Babies R Us registries find comparable items at other companies and is offering a $10 site credit to customers who switch over, according to Natalie Gordon, the site's founder.
"We expect there to be many thousands of transfers over the coming weeks," Gordon said. "People are panicking -- this is really big disruption for customers."
Babies R Us, which oversees the third-largest baby registry program in the country, has roughly 200 locations around the country. More than 40 percent of expectant parents with a baby registry have one at Babies R Us, compared to 64 percent at Amazon and 56 percent at Target, according to a study by product comparison site weeSpring. (Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, also owns The Washington Post.)
Toys R Us, based in Wayne, New Jersey, has been struggling for years to pay down billions of dollars in debt as it faced increased competition from the likes of Amazon, Walmart and Target. Then last week, the company threw in the towel and said it was liquidating its U.S. operations.
The news came as a surprise to Brittany Hobson, 31, who had bought plenty for her daughter at Babies R Us.
"The crib, bassinet, clothes, diapers galore," said Hobson, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, and has a 7-week-old baby. "It's crazy how much money we've spent at that company."
Over the past week, she says she has called the company at least three times to ask about the nearly $200 in rewards she's owed. Babies R Us has said it won't mail out her gift cards for another five weeks, she said, at which point they will be too late to redeem.
"I cried when I heard that," she said. "It doesn't sound like a lot of money but I'm on maternity leave. I'm not getting paid."
On Tuesday, she received an email from Toys R Us. The company wouldn't make any exceptions, it said, but "we truly appreciate your loyalty and the immeasurable love and support you've shown us."