Shawnie Smith was among the parents and grandparents strolling the aisles of Walmart's expanded toy department in a South Philadelphia store a full week before Black Friday.
"Everyone is like fighting over toys, you know, it's too much," Smith said of the biggest shopping day of the year. "I would rather go online."
Smith, 51, of Southwest Philly, shopped at Toys R Us last year. She chose the Walmart on South Christopher Columbus Boulevard this year to buy gifts for her grandchildren because, she said, "they always have a big selection of everything."
Even more so this year. That Walmart is among the many stores that have expanded toy offerings for the first holiday season without Toys R Us, following its January bankruptcy and liquidation.
Walmart, Target, and other retailers are competing for the estimated $1.3 billion void — about 5 percent of the toy market — left by the disappearance of Toys R Us, real estate firm CBRE said. Amazon unveiled a toy catalog, Party City opened Toy City pop-ups, and FAO Schwarz reopened its Manhattan store.
"Nobody is not going to purchase a toy because Toys R Us isn't there," said Adrienne Appell, a Toy Association spokesperson. "You're going to see a lot more toys in a lot more places."
While analysts are looking at the toy market this holiday season to see what happens without Toys R Us, they are also forecasting a strong holiday turnout. The National Retail Federation predicted holiday sales of $717.45 billion to $720.89 billion, up 4.3 percent to 4.8 percent compared to 2017. The NRF said tariffs were expected to have a minimal effect on prices.
"Confidence is near an all-time high, unemployment is the lowest we've seen in decades, and take-home wages are up. All of that is reflected in consumers' buying plans," according to NRF chief executive Matthew Shay.
The absence of Toys R Us is a big change for many shoppers and offers a chance for retailers like Walmart, Target, and Amazon to "pick up most of that volume," said Juli Lennett, a toy industry analyst with the NPD Group.
"The competition is fierce," Frank Pellicori, manager of the Walmart on South Christopher Columbus Boulevard, said while walking through this year's toy selection. Though Toys R Us is no longer around, other competitors are upping their game, he said.
"Everybody is probably going to try to take advantage of it, but we've always been focused in on toys and we're just going to do everything we can to take care of our customers and deliver a great holiday," Pellicori said.
Amazon opened a new front by unveiling its first toy catalog this month. It does not include prices, allowing the retailers to adjust them in real time and remain competitive on deals. While flipping through the pages, shoppers can scan a QR code next to a toy and see the product online.
Target said in October that more than 500 of its 1,800 stores would add space for toys and that it would remodel toy departments in more than 100 stores, including the Abington location. The retailer also boasted more than 2,500 new and exclusive toys — nearly double last year's — and hosted events for families to try out new toys and see some of their favorite characters.
"We picked up quite a bit of square footage as far as size so we're really trying to go after that toy market this Christmas," said David Markman, the store director at Target in Abington.
"It's a very competitive market … but we're in a position to take that market share because of, first off, our great in-stocks and our great pricing that we have, but also the service that we provide in our building," Markman said.
Even with more toy options at Target, it might not be enough to entice shoppers away from the convenience of Amazon's free shipping, quick deliveries, and unmarked boxes, perfect for hiding from the kids until the holidays.
Oliver Lowing, 4, was entranced by the toy aisles at the Target in Abington on Monday, stopping every few feet to pick up an item, before yelling "I found it!" once he came across the Hot Wheels display. His mother, Sarah Lowing, 40, and grandmother, Nancy Winters, 68, trailed behind.
Though Oliver circled items in a Target toy catalog and his grandmother enjoyed seeing in person what toys he liked, his mother said they wouldn't buy toys in the store. Every year, she said, she and her husband create an Amazon gift list for Oliver while he is asleep and send it to the rest of the family.
"No toys today," said Lowing of Elkins Park. "We pretty much do all of our Christmas shopping on Amazon."