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Exclusive Q&A: Build-A-Bear adapts digital transformation to pandemic

Build-A-Bear Workshop  logo
Build-A-Bear is continuing its digital transformation program.

Build-A-Bear Workshop is reaping the benefits of its digital transformation program as shoppers continue shifting online.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Mike Early, senior VP and CIO at Build-A-Bear Workshop, about the company’s ongoing efforts to create a digitally-focused enterprise. Early discussed how the company began these efforts prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has intensified them as customers continue to gravitate to omnichannel and online shopping options.

Early also discussed Build-A-Bear’s latest digital transformation effort, the recent launch of Bear Builder 3D Workshop. Developed by Build-A-Bear in partnership with interactive shopping simulation provider Buzz 3D, hybrid multicloud computing platform Nutanix, data center and cloud services provider TierPoint, and amusement park experience designer PGAV, Bear Builder 3D Workshop is designed to interactively guide customers through the company’s bear-building experience.

What led Build-A-Bear to seek a digital transformation?

The trend of consumers increasing their time online for shopping and entertainment has been consistent and only accelerated with the pandemic. We have a brand that is multi-generational with appeal to customers of all ages that shop at Build-A-Bear for a range of occasions and experiences.

We put many of our digital initiatives in motion prior to the pandemic and were able to enhance and expand our capabilities which is continuing to pay off as our digital demand is projected to be nearly 20% of total revenues in 2021, compared to about 4% in 2012, with 2021 delivering the highest e-commerce revenue and profitability in our company’s history.

[Read more: Build-A-Bear sales, earnings up over pre-pandemic levels]

How did the pandemic alter or accelerate the strategy?

We were already well into our digital initiatives prior to the pandemic, so the decision to transform our business was well underway, and the pandemic accelerated the pace of change as well as drove some changes in sequence. For example, it became very clear in the early months that enhancing our omnichannel capabilities relative to e-commerce fulfillment was critical. Thus, we pulled forward our planned initiatives around buy-online-pick-up-in-store and ship-from-store.

[Read more: Build-A-Bear Workshop crafts same-day online delivery program]

What made you decide to launch the Bear Builder 3D Workshop experience?

We want to continue to provide engaging experiences for our customers that meet them where they are, whether it be a physical or digital presence. The Bear Builder 3D Workshop allows the customer who wants to experience the Build-A-Bear magic another way to do so. Anyone who wanted the fun and emotion of Build-A-Bear, but didn’t feel like they could get it digitally now has a way to achieve that without being required to go to a store. We are excited about our engaged and growing consumer base for the Bear Builder 3D Workshop.

Can you share any digital transformation plans for 2022?

We will continue our previously announced initiatives with Microsoft and Salesforce, with emphasis on creating great experiences for our associates and customers, while continuing to work with Nutanix and TierPoint as we further enhance and develop the Bear Builder 3D Workshop.

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