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The View from Here

Dot-com reality slapped me in the face last week when I clicked over to eToys.com and gone was one of my favorite places to visit on the World Wide Web.

I knew it was coming, but it saddened me nonetheless. But, hey, at least I never bought any of that stock.

Wired News offered a well-written eulogy for the online toy store:

In many ways, the fate of eToys.com was similar to that of the ultra-trendy kids toys it once stocked.

Wildly popular. Greatly admired when brand new. And then, just as quickly, broken and lying in the back of some closet.

Ah, say it ain’t so, but it was. Once the darling of the Internet IPO set, eToys filed for Chapter 11-bankruptcy protection after a dismal holiday 2000 retail season. Its stock, once traded as ETYS on the Nasdaq, is all but worthless.

The company’s financial statements tell the story of eToys.com’s decline and demise. While $131 million worth of toys was sold during the final three months of 2000, it was far short of projected sales volume of $210 million to $240 million.

And the company tried to move that merchandise.

Millions were spent on sales and marketing, but like fickle children, American consumers didn’t flock to the Web for holiday shopping. Perhaps the new new thing’s newness has worn off. Or maybe it was just a dip in the retail sector. Or maybe it was memories of ordering a Brio train set for Christmas in 1999, having it placed on back order, never receiving it, never finding out what happened to it.

That’s what happened to me, but I don’t think the Three-Year-Old noticed. She was happy with her Santa haul (but as many of us know, parents often want the best toys for themselves and are simply using the kids as cover.) I tried not to hold it against the company. It was new. It was Christmas. Stuff happens. But I bet that other toy-buying parents weren’t so forgiving, and so goes a promising e-commerce venture into a few paragraphs or maybe a chapter in a B-school textbook.

Analysts and investors will pick apart “What went wrong?” scenarios for some time to come, but for me the more important, and rather selfishly short-term, concern is this: Where else am I going to find a going-out-of-business toy store offering up to 75% off and reliable delivery? Sadly, nowhere. All I’m left with is a dot-bomb vulture habit.

And some quality Little Tikes merchandise (for the Kids) and a few Action Man Extreme Skateboarder action figures (for the Kids — and me).

It’s tough to beat Action Man for quality and stress relief. Feeling a little tension at the ol’ office? Let me recommend launching Action Man off your desk — or maybe backyard deck or front porch. You’ll be 10 years old again. That grown-up stress will fade away. Especially if Action Man lands in a big mud hole. And you’ll be in such a good mood, that you won’t even mind your daughter borrowing Action Man for a Barbie wedding.

You will, however, mind when she tries to dress Action Man in a Barbie evening gown. Trust me.

One of my favorite books from last year is James Gunn’s “The Toy Collector,” which has its hero avoiding adulthood through an obsessive fascination with the toys of his past — now sold, expensively, in memorabilia shops.

It’s a novel that’s “about the lasting strength of childhood, the responsibilities of adulthood, and the repercussions of a generation nursed on TV shows and action figures.”

And that’s the generation that I think will miss eToys.com the most.

Point. Click. Deliver. Action Man at your door. And that, that small dose of childhood in a stress-filled business day, can make all the difference in the world.

And when that doesn’t work?


Contact MBJ editor Jim Laird at jlaird@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.


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