What the Customer Experience community can learn from Build A Bear

Most retail experiences are dull: bland, bland, bland

Do you find most retail experiences simply dull?  I do.  Most of the time that I walk into retail stores I am left totally unimpressed.  The retails stores all collapse into one heap of blandness: one mobile phone store is just like another – the only difference is the brand name; one games  retailer is like another one; one PC store is like another and so forth.  Yet in this ocean of blandness I have come across a company that stands out: Build A Bear.

Build A Bear have reimagined  and reinvented the Customer Experience

The folks at Build A Bear have reimagined the entire bear purchasing and ownership experience.  When you turn up at a Build A Bear store you are greeted by smiling sales assistants and lots of colour – the store is alive and it draws you in especially if you are a child.  Once in the store you cannot simply go to the shelves, pick up a bear, pay and leave.  That would be dull and you would just be like every other shop selling bears.

Instead you are invited into a process where you create your very own, personal, bear.  The shop assistant invites you to select the bear skin.  Then you move on and select  the audio that you want inserted into you bear. Once you have done this ( or chosen no audio) you go with assistant and sit in front of the machine that stuffs and stitches your bear right in front of you.  You decide how much stuffing goes into your bear – depending on whether you want your bear on the softer side or more on the firm side.  Whilst you are making the bear the sales assistant invites you to choose a name for your bear.  After all the bear is your very own special friend that you are going to share your life with, not just a toy!

Once you have made your bear and chosen his name, the sales assistant shows you the section where there are lots of different outfits.  And being a child you absolutely go crazy and select school outfits, party outfits, sports outfits, night clothes and so on.  This is usually where the parent steps in to ‘help’ the child to select only one or two outfits.  When you’re ready you go to the counter and pay.  Here you are met with another surprise.  The cashier hands you a birth certificate for your bear: in my daughters case Meemoo was born in the early days of January 2011.

Just when you think you have seen and experienced it all.  The cashier places your bear into a cardboard house – one that you can decorate when you get home – and tells you that once you get home you can go and log onto the Build A Bear virtual world on the website.  And when you get home that is usually what you do or ask your parents to do.  Once you are on the website you can do more fun stuff: you can make your very own bear come alive with the outfits you bought in the store.  If you want to do more on the website then you have to go and buy more outfits from the store.  And that is exactly what my daughter does.   That is how Meemoo ends up being loved when the other thirty odd bears sit on the shelves neglected.

What is the lesson for the Customer Experience community?

Customer Experience is much more than complaint management.  Customer Experience is much more than simply improving customer interactions.  Customer Experience is much more than better service.  Customer Experience is much more than a better product.  In its fullest sense, Customer Experience  is doing what Build A Bear does: taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary by engaging the customer in co-creating an immersive and enjoyable customer experience.

It is worth noting that Build A Bear has not just reinvented the customer experience,  Build A Bear has reinvented the business model as well.  The accessories prolong the relationship with the customers (the children come into the stores regularly to buy new outfits) and drive the majority of revenue, profits and customer LTV.  Put differently, you never have to sell another bear to your customer, you can just sell the accessories.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

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