Build-A-Bear Taps Gaming Tech to Win Over Connected Kids

Retailer taps into mobile apps and digital gaming experience to draw in next generation of digitall savvy kids

Build-A-Bear Workshops are getting a makeover. With store sales down in five of the last six years, the company needs to win back kids who want toys that feature the latest and greatest tech.

Until now, the US$381 million company relied on a manual process where store associates helped kids stuff animals, wash them at a mock bathtub and dress them in front of mirrors. But Build-A-Bear knows "manual" can't satisfy digital-savvy customers, ages 6 to 12, used to playing with technology like the Wii or LeapPad. The company now wants to change how kids use the stores.

"We can't just sprinkle technology into stores because it's not about technology. It's about the experience," says Dave Finnegan, Build-A-Bear's chief information and interactive officer.

The company is revamping its design process with touch screens and gaming interfaces. "This is using technology to take the customer on a journey to bring the animal to life," says Greg Buzek, president of research firm IHL Group. Build-A-Bear has to offer a unique experience to lure parents to the mall, where most of its stores are located, he says.

Justin Bieber in a Bear

In nine revamped stores, a Microsoft Kinect screen at the entrance displays messages, such as which new My Little Pony items are available. Once inside, a kid chooses an animal, swipes on a Microsoft PixelSense screen to select its characteristics, such as generous or kind, and adds sound chips, such as a song by Justin Bieber.

Next, an employee scans the toy's barcode to link it with the child's name and birthday, which are already in the system. The barcode identifies each animal so associates can personalise the experience, such as by mentioning the child's upcoming birthday.

In a feature due this summer, kids will use Samsung MultiTouch screens to drag virtual stuffing into their toys while an associate adds the real stuff. They then move to a PixelSense station to give the bear a virtual bath. In early setups, kids could use screens to try on simulated outfits, but they preferred playing with real clothing, so Build-A-Bear removed the digital version.

Build-A-Bear has seen a 25 per cent increase in sales, on average, in the revamped stores, and it plans to roll out 50 more high-tech stores by the end of 2014.

Finnegan says the company wants to keep kids coming back after their first purchase. To that end, it's refreshing Bearville, a virtual world where kids play with their bears online. Competitor Webkinz, which offers its own stuffed toys and interactive website, outranks Bearville in traffic and page views, according to Alexa.com, which tracks Web metrics.

Build-A-Bear plans to roll out a mobile app called BearValley this year. Also in the works: customised marketing via email, text and regular mail with QR codes kids can bring to the store for a bear spa day, birthday celebration or other special event.

"If you come back to Build-A-Bear," Finnegan says, "you can unlock a different story or experience each time."

Lauren Brousell is a staff writer for CIO magazine. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

Read more about industry verticals in CIO's Industry Verticals Drilldown.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Blog Posts

To DMP or not to DMP?

There are plenty of brands that can benefit from plugging into a data management platform. But should you engage an agency to run one or bring it in-house?

Ben Willee and Richard Taylor

Spinach Advertising

Innovations in retail will bring creative and technology closer than ever

While approaching a customer in a shop and asking what you can help them with is Retail 101, how many of us actually enjoy being approached? Generally, you have to give the forced, fake smile and say, “Just browsing, thanks,” while screaming on the inside, “just leave me alone!” Maybe it’s just me?

Jason Dooris

CEO and founder, Atomic 212

There’s a brand in my digital soup

Not a day passes by in the life of business executives where digital innovation or the prospect of disruption is not front of mind. This in turn, drives an unrelenting flow of questioning, discussion and strategy papers.

Jean-Luc Ambrosi

Author, marketer

It is really inspiring to see that medial psychology & machines are going hand in hand to innovate new things and even are improving ...

CBT Professionals

How psychology is shaping better machine learning

Read more

Anything is achievable when you talk the talk .. good luck

Mo Al Hooti

Data Creative crowns Matt Bates as new CMO

Read more

Great hire and good luck Andrew. I am sure you'll do a fabulous jobRob

Rob

Amaysim marketing and commercial chief joins property tech investment startup

Read more

I need to be reborn before i can grow up & become a contestent.

Kaye Peterkin

Channel Nine's content now streamed digitally on 9Now

Read more

I hope The Block, will continue for many many more seasons.When i die, & grow up, I want yo come back as a contestent.

Kaye Peterkin

Channel Nine's content now streamed digitally on 9Now

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in