Ways in Which Build-A-Bear Workshop Utilises Digital to Extend Customer Engagement Beyond In-Store Experiences

Interview with Brian Sawyer, Senior Managing Director – Digital at Build-A-Bear Workshop, about the impact of the rise of digital and e-commerce on the wider retail industry.

Brian Sawyer is the Senior Managing Director – Digital at Build-A-Bear Workshop where he leads the brand’s global digital strategy, including digital marketing, ecommerce, interactive, guest services and corporate sales. He is responsible for bringing to life the Build-A-Bear customer experience through digital and extending the value of the physical plush through digital.

Prior to joining Build-A-Bear in 2012, he served as Director of Ecommerce for Charming Charlie, Senior Director of Ecommerce for Academy of Sports and Outdoors, and Director of Ecommerce Operations for the athletic specialty retailer, Finish Line.

Brian spoke to CX Network ahead of speaking at the Executive Customer Contact Exchange in Miami in October. In this interview he discusses the need for retail brands to deliver constant and elevated in-store experience as a key differentiator due to the growth in e-commerce, the impact of the rapid growth of mobile on the industry, and how brands can utilise digital to extend the customer engagement beyond physical environments.

Hi Brian, welcome to CX Network. What does your role as Senior Managing Director – Digital specifically entail, and how does your job impact upon Build-A-Bear Workshop’s wider customer experience strategy?

I lead the brand strategy as it pertains to digital to create a digital ecosystem to provide the fullest experience of the Build-A-Bear brand. As with most brands, digital serves as the gateway to the Build-A-Bear brand for both new and existing consumers.

In what innovative ways are you utilising digital to enhance the customer experience and ensure engagement is personalised across all channels?

When applied correctly, digital can help brands extend customer engagement beyond the physical environment like a retail location in the case of Build-A-Bear. Digital engagement plays a large role in the customer experience for our two target audiences, moms and children.

A core principle of the brand is to ‘add a little more heart to life,’ and we achieve this for moms by creating shareable experiences within social and buildabear.com. For children, we create safe and unique channels for children to interact, like our YouTube channel Bearville Alive!, mobile apps, onsite gaming, etc.

What do you find to be the additional challenges of working in customer experience within retail compared to other industries? And how is it more rewarding?

The customer experience for retail guests continues to evolve within the digital age as consumers become more sophisticated. Digital, and more specifically social sites, have created direct connections between brands and their consumers where the guest has more access than ever to engage with brands through Facebook posts, tweets, etc.

Brands need to deliver a constant and elevated in-store experience as a key differentiator for their competitors due to the growth in e-commerce. E-commerce has devalued previous brick-and-mortar strategies around product mix due to the endless aisle and expanded assortments that is expected for any e-commerce website where they now need to rely more heavily on creating experiences in-store.

Guests are more knowledgeable than ever due to the high percentage of pre-shopping done prior to their visit along with the proliferation of mobile in-store through tactics like show rooming. The core of the Build-A-Bear brand is the unique and personalised experience of creating a new furry friend in our stores.

If a guest chooses to purchase in-store over the convenience of their home, brands must increase the knowledge of their associates along with focusing more on delivering a unique experience that cannot be replicated through an e-commerce website. Telecom and financial services are more easily recreated through digital and do not require the tactile emotions around an in-store visit.

And are there any differentiated ways in which Build-a-Bear Workshop encourages loyalty and turn customer into true brand advocates?

The experience of creating a unique furry friend is core to the brand, which in turn encourages our guests to return for future purchases or share their moments through social channels, for example, as brand advocates.

The Build-A-Bear digital strategy will continue to find ways to increase loyalty and brand advocacy with little to no barriers to experience the brand in its fullest extent. Digital will always compliment and extend the experience.

What major trends do you predict will impact customer experience in 2016? How are you preparing for these?

The continued rapid growth of mobile allows consumers to be more connected than ever and, at times, to the detriment of childhood wonderment or offline play. Build-A-Bear is continuing to look for ways to engage children through digital like we have achieved with our YouTube series Bearville Alive.

While the channel was created for children at the core, the stories are intended to show children how to imagine and play with their own furry friends so they can replicate these stories in their own homes… offline.

Can you tell me about a time you or Build-a-Bear Workshop went above and beyond to delight an individual or group of customers?

We developed the Find-A-Bear? ID program to help guests locate the furry friends they create, if it’s ever lost. Every Build-A-Bear Workshop furry friend is stuffed with a barcode. When you make a birth certificate at the Name Me station, guests can enter their new friend in our Find-A-Bear ID program by entering their contact information. If the furry friend is ever lost and returned to a Build-A-Bear location, we can try to use this information to send it home. This feature is a unique way that our guests can help ensure that the animal or character they create in our stores can truly become a forever friend.

Finally, what is your ultimate piece of advice for fellow CX leaders to help them deliver a memorable customer experience?

Don’t use digital purely for utility. Instead, find the portions of your brand’s DNA where digital works to extend experiences through these emerging digital channels and not just for the sake of following digital trends.