Build-A-Bear to Launch New POS for Online-Offline Collaboration

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Build-A-Bear Workshop Inc., a retailer that allows consumers to create their own stuffed animals, is developing a point-of-sale system to be installed in stores to drive traffic to the Web and vice versa.


The POS system -- expected to debut as early as this fall -- is intended to build loyalty among offline and online customers of Build-A-Bear.


"We're really in the developmental stages but our whole purpose is, yes, it would work both ways -- the store would drive you to the Web and the Web would drive you to the store," said Maxine Clark, who styles herself chief executive bear of the St. Louis company.


"But again, since so many of our customers are children, they cannot purchase on the Web without their parents and we really want them to come to our store," she said. "So our thing is not so much about Web commerce but about Web conversations with our guests."


The new POS system will link Build-A-Bear's retail operations with its site, www.buildabear.com, which accounts for 5 percent of the company's revenue. Customers who shop at the bricks-and-mortar stores will be given a special password that they can enter on the site for offers.


"We won't necessarily do it as a discount," Clark said. "We try to add value rather than discount things. So it might be something free that you get when you go to the store because you've collected this many points."


There may be some exceptions to this rule. For instance, Build-A-Bear might offer discounts on a child's, or bear's, birthday.


All offers will have to be redeemed in a physical store, however.


"My thing is to drive people to our store, not to our Web site," Clark said.


"In our company, you make a bear in our store," she added. "That process of making your own stuffed animal is very meaningful. It's not just like you bought a T-shirt on a rack. Everything we do is to enhance and multiply that kind of experience."


Founded in 1997, Build-A-Bear operates 40 stores -- called workshops -- in 23 states nationwide. Plans call for 30 additional stores by year-end. Most Build-A-Bear stores are located in big malls and family tourist destinations.


The retailer's colorful online store debuted at the same time as its offline counterpart got off the ground. Buildabear.com offers shopping, party themes, store locations, games, a database-building sweepstakes for a free bear and corporate information.


In the future, the site will allow consumers to upload pictures and create a home page for their bears, Clark said.


Besides selling directly to consumers online and offline, Build-A-Bear also runs a program for companies interested in giving gifts of bears as incentives to their customers or employees.


Some of Build-A-Bear's offline relationships have an online extension. For instance, its partnership with the World Wildlife Fund includes links on www.wwf.org to Build-A-Bear's Web site.


Clark said her company was contemplating similar cross-marketing relationships with other socially conscious organizations. But she is hesitant to clutter the buildabear.com site.


"We're not trying to over-advertise to our guests," Clark said. "We're not going to commercialize. Teddy bears are very wise and they don't talk a lot and they are good listeners and they pitch all of the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.


"So they're really not into sales that much, they're not that mercenary," she said. "They don't need a lot to be happy, just a hug or two a day makes them very happy, and we try to expand the ways in which people can think of them."


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