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The Force has awakened at retail


The new Star Wars film awoke a promotional force of epic proportions over the weekend, but now retailers are faced with daunting task of driving sales of merchandise tied to a movie that won’t hit theaters for more than three months.

More than 3,000 retail locations in the U.S. opened at midnight on Friday to unveil aisles of new merchandise tied to the upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” film, according to Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media.

While many retailers are vying for a piece of the Star Wars action, none has more at stake than Toys “R” Us.

"We believe Force Friday is a real opportunity for Toys "R" Us to generate much-needed traction going into its always-critical holiday season," stated Charlie O'Shea, Moody's senior analyst. "While these Force Friday promotions will benefit all that participate, such as Walmart and Target, both of which joined Toys with midnight events both online and in stores, no one 'needs' this as much as Toys. With the Star Wars movie opening just ahead of Christmas, Toys should have myriad opportunities to benefit from its destination toy store market position with a steady diet of Star Wars-focused events."

Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media added digital components to Force Friday by hosting a global live event to unveil key “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” products. Fans who tuned in to the Star Wars YouTube pagewere able to see toys unboxed by top digital stars.

“We’ve been working closely with the filmmakers to bring the characters and storylines from ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ to life through an exciting array of products, and we’re thrilled to share them with fans around the world,” said Leslie Ferraro, president of Disney Consumer Products.

Target’s offering of Star Wars merchandise was so extensive the retailer presented the goods in its seasonal area and also offered a more limited assortment on an endcap in the toy department. Target also let shoppers entering the store it was on trend with Star Wars by placing seven foot tall Chewie (the furry beast from the movie) near the entrance. The displays featured a motion activated speaker that would make the distinctive guttural Chewie sound when a shopper was in the vicinity. A sign on the display encouraged shoppers to, “take a selfie doing your best Chewie roar,” and alerted them to presence of products in the seasonal department.

At a Walmart in Tampa, Fla., the retailer positioned a Star Wars-themed pallet train in the front of the store (see photo above) that featured some exclusive merchandise, but half of it was empty and a manager said there were three pallets of merchandise in the back still waiting to be brought to the sales floor. Walmart said it was the only place to find Topps’ Galactic Connexions, a trading disc game featuring the Star Wars characters, as well as other exclusive toys. The Walmart ad for Aug. 28, through Sept. 12 featured a blurb on cover, “Force Friday Landing September 4. Star Wars gear for all ages. See page 24.”

Highlights from other merchandise found at U.S. retailers include:

  • Kay Jewelers: Introduced a Star Wars Charmed Memories collection.

  • Toys R Us: Had special giveaways, store events and exclusive toys.

  • Offered deals on select Star Wars items.

  • Petco: Debuted five new products as part of its Star Wars Pet Fans Collection.

  • Brookstone: Launched Star Wars The Force Awakens BB-8 App-Enabled Droid for $149.99.

  • Disney stores: A large collection of exclusive merchandise including role play items, talking action figures and figure play sets.

  • J. Crew: Has apparel for men, women and kids featuring the fan-favorite “Chewie, we’re home” scene of Chewbacca and Han Solo from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer.

  • Kohl’s: Has a Star Wars collection of Rock & Republic misses apparel and Mighty Fine juniors apparel offers female fans graphic tees, leggings, sweatshirts, hoodies and dresses.

  • Pottery Barn Kids: Offering the ultimate Millennium Falcon children’s bed

  • JCPenney: Has a villainous take on home merchandise featuring new characters from the Dark Side, such as First Order Stormtroopers and Kylo Ren

The new Star Wars film, which opens in theaters on Dec. 18, is expected to become one of the highest-grossing in box office history (projections put it at a $615 million global opening), but it remains to be seen whether Star Wars-related merchandise can eclipse the sales that Disney’s smash hit “Frozen” delivered to the retail industry last year. Disney says "Frozen" franchise raked in more than $1 billion in annual retail sales in 2014.

“2015 could be one of the best years the U.S. toy industry has seen in well over a decade,” said Juli Lennett, senior vice president of the U.S. toys division at The NPD Group. “The success of Disney Frozen, Minecraft, Shopkins, and Paw Patrol are some of the key reasons why 2015 has thus far been a particularly robust year for toys. There are certain events that will likely make the close of 2015 even better for the toy industry. For example, the movie releases of ‘Minions’ and ‘Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.’ ”

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