By Rob Garf 

Robert Fort and I had the opportunity to visit the Build-A-Bear interactive store-of-the-future prototype at Infusion in NYC. They’ve rolled out about 6 live stores across the country. This is a mock store, but I still walked away with two very cute bears for my boys. It was wicked cool. And more than that, it was wicked functional. I’ve been immersed in digital and store technology for many years; what they’ve created has to be on my top 5 list for innovative shopping experiences (yes Robert, your Virgin Stores are up there too).

  Build a Bear Interactive Kiosk
The concept is that children, with their parents, navigate the bear adoption and creation process through an automated series of steps via technology that are as much theatre as they are purposeful. To classify the technology as kiosks would be a disservice. They are more like interactive and experiential digital stations. Here are 4 elements that Build-a-Bear and Infusion incorporated that make this work:

  • They know the customer. The retailer is continually collecting profile data, such as birthday, gender and musical preferences. This intelligence – managed in the cloud and instantly accessible across devices and channels – is not only leveraged to personalize the shopping experience, but it also enables up-sell of apparel and accessories over the lifetime of the bear. Can you say razorblades?
  • It’s an enterprise approach. Each device is networked so hardware is constantly monitored and content is efficiently syndicated. Because the stations are not on an island, the retailer has full control of their brand. They can also measure effectiveness of usability and content based on where and how customers interact. For example, they incorporated a swipe function (in addition to Microsoft Kinect functionality) to the interactive balloon game at the entrance after they noticed that children kept on touching the screen.
  • Technology is intuitive. Remember the days of clunky kiosks that weren’t designed for the space, and the user interface mimicked the online experience rather than a form factor necessary for the store environment? The team takes this into account and has created an intuitive experience that caters to technology savvy consumers shopping in a physical store location.
  • Experience is seamless. From the time customers approach and walk into the store, they are welcomed with technology and guided effortlessly through the process. Build-A-Bear has clearly established a digital backbone to ensure that data, content and capabilities are consistently accessible across virtual and physical touchpoints. When I finished the in-store experience, all my information was instantly available on

So how did they know it would work? Well, they listened. The retailer employed a “Cub Advisory Board” that consists of their core demographic, children, to test – and re-test – the experience to ensure the perfect blend of form and function. As retailers continue to digitize their physical stores – and leverage much of the goodness from their commerce platforms – it’s a good idea to check out one of Build-A-Bear’s interactive store-of-the-future live today in various locations across their U.S. markets. They got it right.

About the Author

Rob Garf, DemandwareAs VP of product and solutions marketing for Demandware, Rob Garf is no stranger to the industry and the challenges retailers face. As the former retail strategy leader for IBM Global Business Services and vice president of Retail Strategies Service at AMR Research, Rob’s been on all sides of the business. He currently leads Demandware’s go-to-market strategy and is responsible for the company’s digital commerce vision.