Violent scuffles, police, tears: welcome to Build-A-Bear

If you are a retailer targeting children, things don’t get much worse than having images circulating all over the world showing kids in tears outside your stores.

That’s the predicament experiential retailer Build-A-Bear found itself in overnight after a marketing campaign went well and truly awry.

The company launched a promotion on both sides of the Atlantic offering customers the chance to buy any of its bears, which can cost up to £52 in the UK, for the price of their child’s age.

Huge demand saw massive queues outside stores with police called to restore order in some cities and multiple reports of violence as parents scuffled over a place in the line. Many stores were closed, host malls unable to deal with the health and safety risks. Newspaper headlines like The Times’ “Get stuffed, say parents caught up in chaos over Build-A-Bear offer” made sure the brand image was well and truly – well, stuffed.

And then there were the crying children…

The Guardian reported parents venting their frustration on social media, saying their children were left “heartbroken” and criticising the organisation of the event. “We told our little one he would be getting a bear today,” said one Welsh mum left to try to explain why they were heading home empty-handed after spending hours queuing in the sun.

At 1.30pm, customers in Build-A-Bear’s Cardiff store were still queuing, but the store had run out of bears. It was handing out £12 vouchers as an apology.

Customers were less than appeased, one venting on Twitter: “I hope everyone had a good day EXCEPT THE DUMB F***S RUNNING BUILD A BEAR.”

In New York, the Build-A-Bear Manhattan store closed at 1pm after similarly massive demand.

“The response to our pay your age day event has been overwhelming and unprecedented,” wrote the toy retailer on one of its international Facebook pages. “We understand our guests are disappointed and we are working to address the situation. We will reach out directly to our valued guests as soon as possible.”

Crowd photo - Build a bear

‘Victim of its own success’

Neil Saunders, MD of GlobalData Retail, said Build-A-Bear was a victim of its own success.

“The decision to shut stores and end the promotion early was necessary on both safety and operational grounds, but it will damage the brand.

“A lot of parents are now upset that they cannot fulfill promises to their children, and many who made special trips to malls are frustrated that their efforts have come to nothing. In our view, Build-A-Bear is going to have to take some action to remedy this, maybe by offering deals and special offers to those affected. This could have a future impact on profits, although it will be helpful to sales volumes.”

But Saunders said there was a positive side: “The high demand indicates that the Build-A-Bear concept remains relevant and popular. While the company needs to plan future promotions far better, there is seemingly an opportunity to stimulate sales with the right deals and offers. But first, Build-A-Bear needs to get its alienated customers back on side.”

\Crowd photo: Josh Jordan via Twitter

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