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How Build-A-Bear fell into its own trap

Friday - 13/07/2018 09:27
Build-A-Bear's pay your age promotion - which led to long queues and chaotic scenes on Thursday - was a "good idea, poorly executed", experts have said.

The chain was offering UK and US customers a chance to buy any bear, which can cost up to £52, for the price of their child's age.

It led to "mile-long" queues, police being called out, and the company calling time on the deal.

Customer service experts said the firm should have learned from the past.

"This is not a good position to be in for Build-A-Bear. Black Friday has shown that customer service is not about bargain basement prices," said Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service.

"People want value, but they will also pay for better service. This was a good idea, poorly executed."

Other episodes from retailing history that could have alerted Build-A-Bear to the impending chaos include fights over a chocolate spread, battles over free flights obtained through buying a vacuum cleaner, and fast-food fisticuffs to get a free doll. 

The long queues seen at shopping centres across the UK on Thursday led to many stores being closed and shoppers turned away. In some cases, parents and children had waited for hours.

Chloe Lythgoe, 19, who took her two children to the Warrington store, said: "Children were becoming distressed from the waiting and the heat inside the shopping centre."

In a statement from the US, Build-A-Bear Workshop said: "Based on the information available to us before the day began, we could not have predicted this reaction to our Pay Your Age Day event." 

Gemma Butler, marketing director at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, said: "This was an ill thought-out and unprofessional promotional execution, one that not only risks their own brand reputation, but has the potential to bring the wider marketing sector into disrepute."

Queues at The Centre in Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland
Crowds queued through The Centre in Livingston, West Lothian - and spilled out on to the pavement outside

For Ms Causon, of the Institute of Customer Service, that reputation could be revived by the retailer's response to shoppers' disappointment.

She said that Build-A-Bear staff seemed to have dealt with the situation with empathy in the stores. The idea of handing out vouchers to those who did not make it through the doors, to use before the end of August, might also prove to be a successful move for the business, she said.

What is Build-A-Bear?

On its website Build-A-Bear describes itself as a "one-of-a-kind global brand that kids love and parents trust".

The US brand was established in 1997 and has made more than 160 million teddy bears to date.

Build-A-Bear stores offer children a chance to design, stuff and dress their own teddy bear. Customers can even add sounds and scents to their toy.

Basic bears cost between £12 and £27 with limited edition toys costing more than £50. Clothing for teddies also ranges from £4.50 to £15.

'Nutella Riots'

Some would argue that any publicity is good publicity.

However, there are a number of other examples of price promotions that went wrong.

Earlier this year, the French supermarket chain Intermarché offered a 70% discount on Nutella, bringing the price down from €4.50 (£3.90) to €1.40.

But police were called when people began fighting and pushing one another.

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 Key: US, Build-A-Bear

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