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How Build-A-Bear’s Pandemic Shift Created Long-Term Omnichannel Opportunity

How Build-a-Bear’s Pandemic Shift Created Long-Term Omnichannel Opportunity

The pandemic threatened the livelihood of brick-and-mortar retailers, especially those with a strong presence in shopping malls. But the retailers that invested in omnichannel capabilities were able to adapt and survive.

For example, during the pandemic’s peak, Build-A-Bear Workshop successfully evolved its brick-and-mortar business to offer more flexible and efficient fulfillment services so it could capitalize on surging ecommerce demand. Over a four-week period, Build-A-Bear turned its store locations into micro-fulfillment centers so it could maintain store operations, keep associates working and create a bright spot for consumers navigating uncertainty and stress.

Through an existing partnership with Deck Commerce, which started back in 2017, Build-A-Bear implemented these in-store fulfillment (ISF) capabilities and quickly saw big benefits for the business: the retailer shipped an average of 2,400 orders per week from stores — twice the retailer’s initial goal — and experienced a 30% increase in weekly ecommerce volumes.

While the cloud platform undoubtedly helped Build-A-Bear navigate the rough waters of the pandemic, Deck Commerce helped set a powerful foundation for the retailer’s long-term growth goals.

“In the short term, it gave us a stable platform,” said Mike Early, CIO of Build-a-Bear in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “In the longer term, it gave us this ability to grow and add things like ship-from-store, in-store pickup and same-day delivery through Shipt, which is another key component of what we wanted to do for last-minute gift givers.”

Creating Joy Amid Uncertainty

The process began in March 2020, when Build-A-Bear and Deck Commerce tapped into the retailer’s POS to gain insight into the inventory feeds in five stores. Build-A-Bear then transitioned from manual processes to Deck Commerce’s automated order routing logic, which allowed the retailer to gain real-time inventory visibility and fulfill orders from the most efficient and cost-effective location. Within four weeks, all 400 Build-A-Bear stores had these more sophisticated ship-from-store capabilities, which allowed the retailer to deliver its plush products to consumers quickly and easily.

“The most critical part from a retailer standpoint is to make sure it’s easy for your customers to look for products, get what they want and have a delivery experience that’s as painless as possible,” Early said. “The ability to understand our inventory on a real-time basis and on a location-by-location basis has been crucial in supporting this mission for us.”

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After successfully implementing ship-from-store services, Build-a-Bear and Deck Commerce introduced buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) and buy online, return in-store (BORIS) services. The retailer also rolled out single-click capabilities for shipping labels, which made the returns process faster and easier for online shoppers. Together, these services helped Build-A-Bear truly bolster its omnichannel business, create a better customer experience, improve fulfillment efficiencies and even reduce transit costs.

“During Q4 2019, [Build-A-Bear] processed 0% of its online orders through stores,” said Chris Deck, Founder and CEO of Deck Commerce in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “In Q4 2021, it processed 70% of online orders through its stores. It transformed [the business].”

Using OMS to Meet an Evolved Brand Promise

Store closures may currently be behind Build-A-Bear, but the changes made during the pandemic have set a new standard for employees and customers alike. With its more sophisticated omnichannel strategy, the retailer has brought its brand mission of spreading joy to new heights: Real-time, store-level inventory and more robust fulfillment services have allowed consumers to get products faster and easier.

“Gifting is clearly a big part of our strategy and the ability to deliver that gift on very short notice is critical; this platform allows us to do that,” said Early. “We love the feedback that says ‘Hey, I was able to do this. It was simple and I was able to make my party at the last minute and deliver an awesome gift like I hoped.’”

Deck added that the retailer saw a marked improvement in social media. “They’re realizing that by embracing this omnichannel experience, they can delight their customers in ways that are very important to them but they never even knew were possible.”

With a strong inventory management and fulfillment foundation in place, Build-A-Bear is ready to take its next steps. While growth is certainly top-of-mind, Build-A-Bear (like all retailers) is preparing to navigate expected and unexpected challenges that will rock the industry in the future.

“We never again want to be in a position where a gift giver has placed an order with us, but we can’t get it to them because the store is out of inventory,” said Early. “Or worse, someone has come to a store to pick up an order and it turns out the product is not there. We’ve been able to put ourselves in a position where that inventory is understood and trusted. We feel really good about our ability to deliver to someone who wants that immediate experience with us.”

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