CEO: He wants your Mom

Breaking with rivals, John Barbour says the future of toy buying will not be determined by kids. It's their mothers who will count the most.

His rivals may talk about veritable armies of teen-agers storming the Web, pockets bulging with cash. But CEO John Barbour believes the future of online toy selling will evolve in a starkly different fashion.

Yes, said the man who will help shepherd the recent Inc. (amzn) and Toy "R" Us Inc. (Toy) online venture, kids are online and buying. Indeed, an estimated 77 million teens are expected to spend $4.9 billion on the Internet by 2005.

But as he prepares to lead the site into the year 2001, including the planned rollout of a baby-toy site on Amazon's platform, Barbour isn't targeting teens. It's their mom's he wants.

"There is a lot of hype in this business," he said. "The concept of kids shopping online has been overemphasized on the Web."

While the Web has changed a lot about the art of buying and selling, Barbour is banking on one thing not changing -- that mom's will continue to do most of the toy shopping for kids. It's an arguable risk but the company has nonetheless gone ahead and retooled its Web site to turn it into a more mom-friendly one, he said.

Barbour, tapped as CEO of the fledgling Web site in August, said that at first blush, recent studies would seem to suggest a coming tidal wave of cash spilling out of teen-ager's pockets. More than a third of Americans between the ages of 4 and 12 are online while other projections indicate that by 2005, the under-17 set online will triple to 77 million.

"It appears there is a small army that is storming their way onto the Web," Barbour said. "(Online toy sellers think) there are millions of bright-eyed, techno wiz kids surfing the Web with bulging pockets."

Yet, they only make up less than 3 percent of all the toys bought on the Web, he said. And Barbour doesn't think that will change in the years to come. Despite the wired world of a teen-agers, more than 97 percent of all online toy purchases are made by adults, he said.

Barbour is the arguable leader of a toy e-tailing space that is in trouble. is the most trafficked site, and its recent collaboration with Amazon adds another 20 million people. And it has the deep pockets of a chain store. Still, deep pockets of the Walt Disney Co. (dis) weren't able to save Toysmart from going bankrupt, and Viacom Inc.'s (via) endless well of money wasn't able to save Red Rocket, another belly-up toy e-tailer.


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