• United States
Contributing Writer

Going online: Don’t lose sight of your uniqueness

Feb 11, 20033 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Creating the same brick and mortar shopping experience online

Bricks and mortar businesses that head online have a tough job. They must try to capture the essence of their physical stores in a virtual storefront. Many fail at this critical task – leaving their online counterparts out in the cold. One online store that bucks that trend is Build-A-Bear Workshop.

If you’ve ever been inside the bricks and mortar version of Build-A-Bear, you know what an incredible experience it can be. The moment you walk into the store, you are greeted by someone who asks if you’ve ever been to Build-A-Bear before. If you say yes, they welcome you back heartily and then send you to begin the bear-building process. If you say no, they guide you through what is a simple and unique approach to buying a stuffed animal.

First, you pick out the stuffed animal you’d like to create – giraffes, dogs, cats, rabbits, cows and turtles are all part of the selection. Then you pick up a “shell” of the animal, which is merely the outside – prestuffing.

You take it over to a stuffing station and the bear specialist asks you to name your bear and how stuffed you’d like your bear to be. Then the specialist lets you use your foot to operate the stuffing machine. You have the option of hugging your bear to make sure it is the right fluff level. When you’ve finished you put a little red heart into your bear and then the specialist uses the prestitched tie to finish up the process.

Customers visiting the store can also give their new pals a bath and create a birth certificate that has the name of their stuffed animal and a “birth date.”

After they’ve completed all this, bear owners are encouraged to pick out clothing and accessories – of which there are hundreds of options. Finally, customers head to the checkout and watch as their birth certificates are printed, their bears are put into a cardboard house and the clothing and accessories neatly hung in a cardboard wardrobe.

I explain this process to you because it’s all part of the Build-A-Bear Workshop experience. Each step of this makes the buying process enjoyable. Translating that into a virtual experience could have failed miserably.

Instead, the folks at Build-A-Bear carried over as many nuances as they could. I had the pleasure of test-driving this recently when I sent a Workshop cat to my mother in the hospital.

There are several ways to begin the buying process, but the easiest is to click the “Shop Online” button. Immediately, you’re shown the whole collection of stuffed animals you can purchase. Click on one and it appears in a box on the right. Then, as you add on clothing and accessories, the picture of your bear “tries them on” so you can see what they look like.

Like the store, you can add a heart to your bear and control the stuffing level. For instance, I indicated in a special instructions area to plump up the cat and they did. Great customer service. They also send the stuffed animals with the same cardboard house and wardrobe as in the store. All purchases include a birth certificate that you fill out online.

These are all touches that could have been left out and the company still would have sold their stuffed animals. But the fact that they kept them shows a very keen eye toward matching the physical and virtual worlds. Kudos.