I don’t think many of us realized just how wonderful KB Toys was until it went under. In fact, things that once seemed annoying about the chain became somehow charming in its wake. The disorganized clutter! The over-reliance on old stock! The six different price stickers on every single item!
When KB stores were doing those fire sales just prior to shutting down, it wasn’t that much different from how they’d been operating all along.
KB had new stuff and even its share of exclusives, but the overall ambiance was that of a discount center. People like me rushed past the “current” items for the glories of those back aisles, where comparatively ancient toys begged to be adopted. It was glorious!
…which leads me to today’s topic.
KB Toys didn’t go out of business until 2009, so it’s no surprise that they once had a major internet presence. Its online identity wasn’t far apart from the real world version. When looking for new things, it always seemed to be our last resort. (Hell, I’ve been buying Christmas presents online for almost 20 years now, and not once can I remember doing it through KB Toys.)
Still, its web presence had the same charm as the actual stores, with wild discounts, loose categories and an overall lack of polish.
What you’re looking at up above is a screenshot of KB Toys’ website from 1998, when they were first getting their digital feet wet. The whole point of the site was to drive people to their brick-and-mortar locations. There were no virtual shopping carts, nor any way to order anything online. What remained was essentially a virtual circular, and my God, did I ever enjoy
flipping clicking through its pages!
Below are ten toys promoted on KB’s website back in 1998. May they fill you with as much nostalgic joy as they did me.
#1: Aliens Figures!
Nothing screams “KB Toys” quite like Kenner’s Aliens figures marked down to goofy prices. Certainly many of you will remember seeing these beauts scattered around the store, usually in dented packaging. I’ve only recently begun to appreciate how awesome that line was, so I’m retroactively mad at myself for skipping these sales. Three Aliens figures for ten bucks? Even by 1998 standards, that was INSANE.
#2: Marvel Universe Figures!
Several times before, I’ve written about my distaste for the Marvel/X-Men figures’ total takeover of KB Toys. From the mid to late ‘90s, it seemed like 75% of the entire store was dedicated to these guys, which were perennially on clearance and always in the giant metal bins right at the front.
I remember them selling for as low as five for ten bucks. It was around that time that I got into swapping action figures with other collectors online, and given how cheap X-Men figures were, they became our go-to items whenever we needed to balance out nearly-equivalent trades. Guys in prison had cans of tuna; internet toy geeks had KB’s X-Men figures.
#3: Machine Wars Transformers!
If I’m not mistaken, the entirety of the Machine Wars Transformers line was exclusive to KB Toys, serving as a semi-resurgence for classic Autobot and Decepticon characters. (Meaning, Optimus Prime and Megatron were back, albeit with unfamiliar vehicle modes.)
Sadly, Beast Wars was really the last time I paid attention to “new” Transformers things, so my exposure to Machine Wars is pretty limited. (Apparently, I’m not alone. From what I’ve read, Machine Wars toys didn’t sell well at all. That’s what happens when you turn Soundwave into a tank.)
#4: Mummies Alive Figures!
Depending on your point of view, Mummies Alive (properly styled with an exclamation point at the end, which I’m ignoring) either came out ten years too late or ten years too early.
In 1988, a cartoon and toys about mummies in the modern world would’ve fit right in.
In 2008, even if it didn’t, fans could’ve sung its praises all over the internet, inspiring new people to take notice.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stand much of a chance in the late ‘90s, surrounded by trends that didn’t suit it, and no good avenues for grassroots support. Judging by the cartoon’s amazing intro, that seems like such a shame. It even had a snake-headed guy!
#5: WWF “Yokozuna” Figure!
Part of KB’s site was dedicated to their past exclusives, including this fantastic Yokozuna figure. If you weren’t a wrestling fan, Yokozuna was a giant Samoan masquerading as a giant Japanese sumo wrestler, who won most of his matches by dropping his giant ass right onto his opponents’ chests. Only 18000 of these figures were made, and KB was the only place to get them. (“Only” 18000? Hard to believe that there were even that many fans interested in a Yokozuna figure by then.)
#6: Godzilla Toys!
Toys based on 1998’s ill-fated Godzilla weren’t that year’s hottest selling, but they may have been the most-promoted. (You can’t blame anyone for assuming the film would capture more hearts than it did. It was basically positioned as “Bigger Than Jurassic Park.”)
Say what you will about the film, but at least it gave rise to some great toys. It also gave website builders an excuse to use Godzilla’s foot as an image link. “Click on the foot to see more cool stuff” is my new favorite call-to-action.
#7: Cheap Games!
Milton Bradley had a bunch of games that were popular enough to make, but not popular enough to make a big fuss about. So, certain games came in these simpler, standardized boxes, with correspondingly lower prices. They were classic stocking stuffers, even if they fit no stockings. (Many of them are still available today, in virtually the same packaging.)
#8: 10″ Marvel Figures!
I didn’t collect the normal-sized Marvel/X-Men figures back then, but even I couldn’t resist the 10” versions. Six bucks was cheap, but they were often sold for even less. Action figures half their size had higher prices! Even with the limited articulation and questionable paint jobs, it was hard to pick the “small cool thing” over the “giant mediocre thing.”
#9: Tamagotchi Pets!
As I recall, Tamagotchis were a bit past their prime by 1998, hence the low price. “Virtual pets” were still popular, but by then, there were far too many competitors, including a blossoming little craze known as “Pokemon.” Still, I’ll never forget just how wild people used to be for these things. I even remember college students sneaking a look at them during classes, to ensure that their little black monsters had enough virtual bread.
#10: Nintendo 64 Games!
From the site’s modest video games section, a selection of N64 games at slightly reduced prices! The two Mario games were must-haves for every single person who owned a Nintendo 64, but all of these titles were quite good. (Well, they had to be, since they were only in this section on account of having been sold more than a million times!)
Dig that late ‘90s website background, too. I remember it well. The one that looked like bloodied tire tracks.
KB Toys would soon remodel its website into something closer to what you’d expect. The war against old enemies like Toys “R” Us and new giants like Amazon forced them to make their entire inventory available online, but in the end, nothing was enough, and the chain shut its doors for good. KB’s website is miraculously still online, but these days, all it does is point you to their former competitors. To the victors go the spoils?