Build-A-Bear Workshop Expands its Digital Footprint with Data Analytics

The toymaker uses data to help it merge physical and digital experiences and stay relevant with today's customers.
Customer Experience

Capturing a child's attention today requires more than offering the year's hottest toy. Toy retailers face steep competition from mobile apps and videos, forcing them to find innovative ways to engage children and their parents.

Build-A-Bear Workshop, which lets customers make their own stuffed animals in stores, is expanding its digital footprint with toys that merge physical and digital experiences. 1to1 Media spoke with Brian Sawyer, senior managing director of digital, about the toymaker's strategy for using data to engage parents and their children in an increasingly digital-first world.

1to1 Media: What is the competitive toy landscape like today? Do you find yourself competing more with mobile apps than with traditional toymakers?

Brian Sawyer:
Although mobile apps have grown substantially and created their own revenue streams, we see an opportunity to use mobile apps to extend the value of a physical object. For example, last year we released for the first time our own IP reindeer. The Build-a-Bear Workshop became Santa's workshop and he dispatched his reindeer to make toys. So we allowed the child to pick a boy or girl reindeer and a name medallion and with that medallion they became part of the reindeer team.

The medallion gives kids a mobile app that lets them play games like teaching reindeers how to fly and dropping off presents for kids around the world. They can also customize their reindeers' stables and put clothing on them. The app doesn't have a purchase component, instead it gives moms value and for kids, uses digital as a way to amplify the physical experience [of having a toy]. We look at mobile as an amplification of what we do as a brand.

Given the restrictions on collecting data about kids, what types of data are you able to collect and how does Foresee help you leverage your analytics?

We want to make sure we're creating rich experiences. When we create something we don't just want one or two touch points, we want customers to continue to come back. And so we're looking at very high level segmented data, like the country they're in and what they're doing in the app. We don't know anything about the specific person, we just know a user did a few different things in the app and where they jumped off. We use that information to fix the user experience gap and make sure the app evolves with users.

While staying clear of customer level data like gender or age, we use base level data to update the user experience. And [customer experience analytics provider] Foresee helps provide a multichannel experience. We use Foresee across different touch points where we can collect data to get a holistic picture of who the customer is. This helps us ensure we're providing a consistent experience across all our channels from the mobile optimized website to customer service, in stores, etc.

How are you measuring the quality of your customer experience across channels?

BS: Foresee helps us get a consistent view across channels with metrics like CSAT. For example, in the in-store experience and guest services, the greeting is everything but on a mobile app. That doesn't make sense. Making sure we have measurements that are native to each channel is important, but from an overall perspective, having that CSAT score tie it all together helps us see how we're doing.

For privacy reasons, Foresee doesn't correlate purchase level data and email addresses to say the person who interacted with this associate purchased this item online. However, Foresee does let us see future purchase intent and that's how we can say someone who interacts here has a high probability to do X, such as make a recommendation, purchase, or return.

How are you personalizing the messages that are sent to your adult customers?

BS: That's where we use customer segmentation to understand who our customers are. For example, just because you're a girl or buying things for a girl, that doesn't necessarily mean you like the same things as other girls. So we're looking at the data from a macro level to understand whether a particular product resonates with a girl who's 4 years old or 12 years old, and as you market to the mother, how do you continue to tell the mother about additional pets or accessories and fashions? We're starting to get into this from a digital perspective with our loyalty members where we have that type of data collection because they chose the option of us continuing to market to them on a one-to-one basis.

How are you engaging your customers? Is it mainly through email for example?

BS: We're experimenting with all the digital channels that are out there. For instance, SMS is still at an infancy stage where it's very difficult to use it as a tool to market to consumers. It has to be very focused and personalized. But we want to be careful about the type of messaging we do on it. We've had a lot of success on email, which is how we mainly communicate with customers and our loyalty members.

Are you planning to use iBeacons in your stores?

BS: We want to make sure we're using technology not for the sake of having it, but to be a high-touch retailer that can deliver that personal one-to-one experience. And we think for the Build-a-Bear workshop, beacons don't make sense today. But we're always watching and evaluating tech to amplify and extend the experience, so maybe someday.

What's on your roadmap for further enhancing the customer experience?

BS: For us, it's about taking the data we have across all touch points and making sure we can evolve the brand. In this digital age, customers expect us to understand their interests instead of us telling them what they should be interested in. Brands used to blast generic emails that say you're going to like this because we know there's a female in the house. Now, messages are becoming more focused on people's actual interests. If I look at your browsing behavior and you seem to be a girl who loves Batman, why don't I show you a super hero line instead of forcing you into a generic segment? And that's what retailers, including us, are working on. We want to understand your day-to-day lives and find ways to complement them.