Did Build-A-Bear destroy its brand with a successful promotion?

Discussion
Source: Build-A-Bear
Jul 13, 2018
George Anderson

Sometimes “while supplies last” disclaimer language just doesn’t cut it with consumers. That was the case with Build-A-Bear Workshop’s “Pay Your Age” promotion yesterday, which drew large crowds at the chain’s stores in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. only to have many turned away when locations were closed due to “safety concerns,” according to a company statement. 

The promotion, first announced on Monday, was enthusiastically received by consumers who saw the opportunity to purchase stuffed animals that typically cost between $10 and $25 for as low as a dollar. After being turned away, members of Build-A-Bear’s Bonus Club were instructed to refer to the company website to receive a voucher for promotion. 

Videos across YouTube show parents and hundreds of small children waiting around for entry into local stores.  Consumers, many of whom waited in line for hours, quickly turned to social media to express their unhappiness with Build-A-Bear. USA Today included screen grabs of tweets in its coverage of the event, including one that read, “@buildabear not being able to supply the demand on pay-your-age day is bad. making kids have to attend and being turned away at the door is disgusting.” 

While it can be argued that Build-A-Bear is not “technically” at fault for the events of the day, there seems little doubt that the company’s brand will be damaged in the eyes of some — how many we do not know — in the process. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should Build-A-Bear have anticipated the chaos to come from its ‘Pay Your Age’ promotion? Do you feel that the chain responded properly? What will it mean for its brand equity going forward

 

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Unless they were trying to clear out some awful inventory, there is absolutely no good reason to undercut your brand value that much. "
"Upsetting people’s children is incredibly bad for any brand, and Build-A-Bear has some work to do to bring customers back on side."
"In this instance, I think the “bad” publicity for Build-a-Bear’s pay-your-age promotion was mostly a good thing."

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23 Comments on "Did Build-A-Bear destroy its brand with a successful promotion?"


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Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

“Pay your age” was a stunt, but lines at Build-A-Bear are nothing new. I was invited to the opening of the new experiential store a few years ago, and there was a line snaking through the mall, without pricing tricks. As retailers look for ways to create attention and excitement, expect more Black Friday-style events at a lot of different formats.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Who can estimate accurately the impact of such a promotion? Customers probably crawled out of the woodwork when they heard about it. There is no practical way to be able to re-order product when you have a one-day event like this. Sure customers will be disappointed, but this is Build-A-Bear’s opportunity to run another such event and tweak it. Build-A-Bear has an ongoing event during which one can “pay your age” on one’s birthday. There will be some fallout from this but the company has a desirable product and can make it up to customer (they gave out vouchers) to maintain their loyalty. It’s not going to bring the walls down.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

I have no idea why Build-A-Bear thought this was a good idea. Unless they were trying to clear out some awful inventory, there is absolutely no good reason to undercut your brand value that much. I mean, forget about the lines. If they set the expectation that this may ever happen again, they will have instantly trained their customers to just wait to buy anything.

If they were really determined to do this to themselves, they should’ve waited for Prime Day and pulled all those parents into the mall on the day they could’ve been home shopping for extreme deals via Alexa or that big desktop experience. I know it wouldn’t have stopped them from shopping on their phones, but you know — that’s still a tougher experience on a smaller screen. You get what you get, especially when what you’re trying to get is bottom feeding, ultra-price-sensitive shoppers who care little about your brand.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Nothing like standing in line for hours with small children (and then leaving with those children deeply disappointed) to build brand equity. It’s surprising that Build-A-Bear didn’t test this in a single market so they could understand the logistical risks involved.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

… or maybe they did test it, which makes yesterday’s botch look worse.

Ray Riley
BrainTrust

As mentioned, this promotional gimmick won’t cause a significant amount of erosion in brand equity long-term, but what did it achieve? What was the actual ROI on this, and how many customers were served? A young person aged 5 to 10 years old presumably is able to acquire a product for upwards of 90 percent off? That’s great value, but certainly doesn’t speak to service when you have to shut it down early. I’m curious how much thought and planning went into this.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

Good news: People like Build-A-Bear. Bad News: People REALLY like Build-A-Bear. This could be the most successful failure in Build-A-Bear’s history. The worst result is that it left disappointed kids and the feelings of “I am a bad parent” will likely be turned on the retailer for some time, creating ill will and hurting brand equity. They should have anticipated and tested this idea before going all-in. Shame on them.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

To the questions: yes, no and brand equity severely damaged. Perhaps not as much as Papa John’s but tarnished nonetheless. Now the company needs to launch an aggressive campaign targeted to all affected shoppers, not simply its Bonus Club members. Build-A-Bear is not a victim of circumstances it could not control. It created the situation and now needs to address it swiftly and positively.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

There is an old adage: Love me, love my kids. Look, promotions are a good thing when they are thought out in advance. At Build-A-Bear, what did they think was going to happen? And then the nightmare occurred, with pictures and videos of kids crying because the store couldn’t fulfill their dream promise. You can’t ask a kid if they want a sucker, and then say to them: “tomorrow”! Resurrection? A disaster … maybe not. But the brand has taken a big hit. All the talk will probably subside in a few days, and the people at Build-A-Bear will sigh with slight relief. However, positive, ongoing messaging from Build-A-Bear is going to be critical here. Not irreparable damage, but a big hit occurred. They “shoulda” known.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust

I think Build-A-Bear actually handled it quite well. Sure not everyone was able to get their bear, but no major instances of violence or especially inappropriate behavior were reported – at least that I saw.

As for future demand, the upset parents might hold a grudge but their disappointed children won’t! If anything missing out yesterday will make them want a Build-A-Bear even MORE so the brand lives on.

I think the crazy takeaway from this is the limited value people have for their own time. Driving to the mall then standing in line for two to four hours to save what, $20? Just another check mark against the “rational consumer” box.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

My niece’s two daughters participated yesterday then were at our house for a party.

Their parents were frustrated at the six hours it took to get their bears. Yet they proudly carried in their boxed bears and showed them off all evening — laying on them, carrying them, hugging them — and reveled in boxing them back up at the end of the evening.

So I don’t expect damage to the brand from the ill-considered promotion. As Bernbach once observed in advertising, the client will far longer remember the superb ad than the two months it was late.

That said, I wouldn’t recommend they hold the promotion again. No need to undercut the value of a premium-priced product like theirs.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Upsetting people’s children is incredibly bad for any brand, and Build-A-Bear has some work to do to bring customers back on side.

Underestimating demand happens, but it is puzzling how the company didn’t foresee any of the issues. There are better promotions that could have been run, or limits that could have been put in place to manage expectations.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

You had to join their Bonus Club to get the deal so growing their customer list was part of the thought process. Maybe the marketing department should have had a conversation with its store managers before giving this one the go ahead.

Matthew McAlister
Guest

“Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.” I don’t see Build-A-Bear’s reputation taking a dive on this one — if anything it just underscores the brand’s popularity with kids and reinforces the success of their business model. The same people going home disappointed will be back in the line during another promotion or holiday — but this time they’ll arrive earlier. Saying your promotion was so popular you literally shut the mall down is a great way to start a call with investors. Good for them. For the people complaining about leaving empty handed — what were you expecting from a promotion of this magnitude?

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

How someone at Build-A-Bear did not see this fiasco coming is beyond me. Certainly, there had to be at least one person who said, “Guys, this is a bad idea.”

In-store events is one of our specialties. One of the things we encourage retailers to do is run through a detailed checklist of things to do before choosing to run an in-store event. The Pay Your Age promotion at a beloved store like Build-A-Bear would not have made it through the filter.

Aside from the damage already in the books, offering a $15 voucher in lieu of a promotion where you could choose any “furry friend” in the store for your kid’s age is adding insult to injury.

Seriously, I can’t stop shaking my head.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust
Some say all publicity is good publicity. It will be interesting to see which way this falls for Build-A-Bear. On the one hand you could say that it’s obvious there would be high demand for a promotion where customers can save as much as £26 or so on a bear. But most of us are also used to these deals being subject to certain numbers. Perhaps Build-A-Bear should have limited the promotion to a certain number of bears per store. That might have managed expectations sooner and allowed staff to inform everyone in the queue past a certain point that they had missed out. They still could have handed out some sort of smaller discount voucher if they wanted. If I understand correctly the offer was only open to members of the company’s loyalty club and therefore we presume they saw it as an exercise for opening up potentially long-term profitable relationships. What’s interesting in all this is that they already have a Pay Your Age deal on a child’s birthday. That seems like a… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

I love all of the comments about how Build A Bear should have projected the success of this promotion. 20/20 hindsight is always perfect. The promotion was still a success in two ways. Yes there were winners who got a bear and they are giving vouchers to the others. The promotion got people in the stores and also got lots of publicity.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

In this instance, I think the “bad” publicity for Build-a-Bear’s pay-your-age promotion was mostly a good thing. It generated a ton of media exposure and, in a way, helped to justify the premium positioning of its product.
I wouldn’t try to repeat it, but in this moment there’s a remediation opportunity (the $15 coupons) that may drive even more business and shopper engagement.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

I wonder how many of the kids who couldn’t get a bear that day will be back later, when the dust settles to get one … betting a lot and in the end there will be quite a few customers who are reacquainted with the Build-A- Bear experience.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

I’m sure there were some disappointed children and parents. That said, was Build-A-Bear ready for the crowds? Did they do something for the crowds — and the people they turned away? There were a number of ways they could have planned this promotion — perhaps a lottery, contest, etc. The response of a voucher was better than just turning them away their fans. If they capture the customer’s info at the time the voucher is sent, they have a great opportunity to engage with the customer and rebuild confidence.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Let me offer the contrarian view: it afforded them priceless, “you-can’t-buy-this” publicity that intrigued lots of people and made them aware of a brand they had never heard of; I would be one of them. Of course I’m also not in the target demographic, so I don’t know how valuable this revelation really is … or how much I would buy this particular contrarian view.

But regardless, it happened: so the usual mea culpa’s and move on … hopefully planning a little better (and one possible upside, if the brand was damaged, fewer customers — just not TOO many fewer — might make it a little easier to deal with promotions).

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

All I can add to this is how something sold way, way below its true value will create chaos, and Build-A-Bear definitely created a crowd. I remember some of my insane deals over the years, and it draws some bloodthirsty deal hunters, that will push and shove their way to get want they want, and you won’t see them again, until the next insane deal. We had fights over 25lb. bags of flour at 69 cents many years ago, and my dad had to break customers up to make sure no one got hurt.

Retail is a bare knuckle brawl, when these sales occur, and Black Friday actually had some poor souls die, being stomped on to get to the $99 TVs, so this is not something new, and any crazy promotion must be thought thru to manage the crowds, and continue to run the event successfully and safely.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Nicole Lipson
Guest

Whoever planned the promotion (PR? Marketing?) should have had a pretty good idea of the implications of this type of event — that’s what professionals are paid to know. The minute there was a spike of signups on the VIP program, which was required, someone should have raised a flag. Lines should have been anticipated, issues with customer volume should have been addressed up front — just so many wrongs with this whole promotion.

And if the shopping centers weren’t prepared, that’s also something that should have been thought of way in advance. Instead of a promotion that could have been great, they got a huge PR disaster, which may cost them many more millions of dollars than expected. The CEO had to go on national TV to apologize. Heads should roll.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Unless they were trying to clear out some awful inventory, there is absolutely no good reason to undercut your brand value that much. "
"Upsetting people’s children is incredibly bad for any brand, and Build-A-Bear has some work to do to bring customers back on side."
"In this instance, I think the “bad” publicity for Build-a-Bear’s pay-your-age promotion was mostly a good thing."

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