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by Sandy Smith
Stores.org

Build-A-Bear Workshop has spent years studying how its young customers play. When it noticed that its tech-savvy pre-teen customers were as content to play in the virtual world as the real one, the company created an online experience designed to feed off and enhance the in-store experience.

“Kids today move seamlessly between online and real-world play,” says Dave Finnegan, Build-A-Bear Workshop’s chief information and logistics bear. “We’re already an interactive brand and a place where kids use their imagination, creativity and self-expression to have fun. All of this interactive customization makes things come to life in a new way.”

While the lines between the in-store and online worlds may have blurred, what’s perfectly clear is that Build-A-Bearville is encouraging interaction with the Build-A-Bear Workshop brand and visits to stores. Every store receipt has a survey questionnaire on which “we ask our guests to give us a sense of what helped to motivate them to come to the store that day,” Finnegan says. “Over 10 percent of our guests say they were highly influenced by their experience on Build-A-Bearville.”

Build-A-Bear’s experiences provide lessons for other retailers, as well, and not just those who cater to the pre-teen audience. “We’re finding that technology adoption is coming from the retailers that are dealing with the younger customers … and wanting to innovate more and react to the way that their customers wish to transact,” says Duncan Taylor, director of product management at Irvine, Calif.-based Epicor.

“A great example is a heavier use of mobile technology appearing in their stores. It’s important to realize that the first Build-A-Bear customers are leaving school [and] are now the Nike and Foot Locker customers. Something they take for granted in Nike today, they’ll expect in, for example, J.C. Penney tomorrow.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that a retailer must create a virtual world like Bearville, but it should understand the technology desires of its target customers.

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