It could have been the marketing coup of the summer. Had Build a Bear successfully pulled off its “pay your age” promotion, people would be talking about it for years, especially every time they saw their child’s favorite stuffed animal. Now, though, millions of people will be talking about the promotion for very different reasons.
You probably know the story by now. Build a Bear advertised that it would hold a very special discount day. Parents could bring their kids in, and they tykes could build a new fuzzy friend for only the cost of their age. The news spread across social media like wildfire, causing tens of thousands to flock to Build a Bear locations across the nation, and elsewhere.
Many showed up well before dawn, waiting in line for their chance to capture the deal. Unfortunately for untold thousands of parents, with tired, cranky kids in tow, waiting in line offered them little more than disappointment. Stores ran out of inventory. Some malls cut off the line because the crowds were blocking access to many other stores. There were arguments and fights, and reports some children were injured in melees.
And, based on the company’s initial statement explaining why the deal was canceled, it seems at least some of those safety-related reports may have some basis in fact:
“Based on the unprecedented response to our Pay Your Age Day event in our early opening stores, we are experiencing significantly longer than expected lines and large crowds. Local authorities are requiring us to limit the lines and crowds due to safety concerns. We understand this is disappointing, we are working to address the situation, and we will be reaching out to our valued guests soon…”
So, after hours waiting in line, tens of thousands of disappointed parents and sobbing, confused children were led away, unsure if they would ever get what they came for. These people, of course, were live-streaming and tweeting their experience in real time. As word spread on social media, local news started showing up, taking video and interviewing frustrated parents and kids.
The complaints continued to pour in, criticizing the apparent miscalculations and disorganization both in planning the event an in executing it at the store level. What was supposed to be a huge win for Build a Bear turned into a constant, day-long embarrassment. Over the next days and weeks, planners will review the event, looking for where it all went wrong. They may want to start with why no one asked: What if everyone shows up?
Regardless of what they learn and what they decide, now Build a Bear has to rebuild its reputation with some very aggravated core customers.