How a Visit to the Build-A-Bear Store Taught Me More About Online Marketing Than Any E-Book I’ve Ever Read

Image by: Angelo Amboldi
By Andrew Fort

Hey buddy, you’re finally here. Get comfortable and relax, because I’m here to fix all your problems. OK, not all, but I will help you:

  • Get the most out of your life and the daily situations you encounter as a hard working man
  • Learn some great tips about how to get closer with your lady
  • Hack Big Business, not the computer kind
  • Craft a better experience for your customers

Something extravagant happened to me last week, and I’m going to share it with you since I know how much you’re going to benefit from it.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, my girlfriend called me in the middle of an anxiety attack. The cause? Well, just like in the movie Inception, some scientific mastermind implanted in her brain the idea that she didn’t have any clothes left to wear.

I know! Crazy, right? Nah, I would be lying if I told you this wasn’t the 72,093th time this has happened (in the past month), but something did change this time. This time I took her seriously, and you know exactly what that means.

Although later that day I learned the reason behind this inevitable disease that haunts almost every woman…

(Which you can read here to understand why they DO have plenty of clothes, there’s just lots of reasons why they won’t wear them)

…there was no escape at the moment.

I couldn’t help but mentally note to myself that I was taking part in a simple exercise of being a good boyfriend.  This awesome checklist from Mode really comes in handy for times like long trips to the mall guys, so check it out. I’m pretty sure I was currently practicing number 6 on the rundown.

What Build-A-Bear Taught Me

Don’t worry, I’m not going to torture you with the specifics of our shopping expedition, but I do want to talk to you about my experience inside the Build-A-Bear Workshop store.

If you’re not familiar with this concept, it’s a factory-like store where kids (and not so kids) can build from scratch their favorite stuffed animal or character, and customize it with countless of accessories and features.

So there I was, waiting for my girlfriend to finish witnessing the whole creation and birth of Bob, the minion. In that long time (and yeah, a little entertaining I’ll have to admit), I couldn’t help but ask myself one question.

Why are they willing to spend so much money on a stuffed animal that they’ll never use again?

I mean, it’s an inanimate object, with the same purpose (or lack thereof) of a regular teddy bear, only 10 times more expensive.

And then, it hit me.

They are not paying for the bear!

Those little kids couldn’t care less about the type of shirt, shoes, or hat that their bear is going to wear. They sure don’t care about how much money they’re spending in the process, and there’s little that their parents can do if they want to avoid WWIII.

They only care about THE PROCESS.

That’s what’s really worth their time and money, the experience. They are investing in a meaningful, almost spiritual journey, and that’s something a generic teddy bear can’t give you.

So, if they can monetize something as intangible as an experience, and make direct and indirect profit out of it, why can’t we do the same on our own business?

Of course we can!

We’re going to learn from the most successful online sellers, but most importantly, we’re going to learn from the people who dictate your success: your customers.

Out-of-Body Experience

I need you to stop being “you” for a moment. Don’t worry, that awesome and charming gentleman that defines you is not going anywhere, it’s just for the sake of a little social experiment. Before you leave your body, I want you to think about your product, service, or whatever it is that you offer to your online customers in exchange for money.

Is it expensive or is it something most people can afford? Is it meant for a specific group of people or can anybody take advantage of it?

Think about your average customer, their needs and desires, and then, SNAP out of your body and get inside Joe Johnson’s mind (don’t Google him buddy, he’s just a fictional character).

Now, as you get to know your new brain, try to learn what Joe needs, wants, and likes, and apply that to his online buying process.

Now it’s time to go fishing.

The Experiment

Set yourself some fixed budget, depending on the average market value of your product or service, and start searching through the web for your niche’s content  as you would do any day you’d want to buy something online.

Visit the top listed sites, visit the ones that appear on the 37th “o” of the “Gooooogle” search, visit every possible link except for your old body’s site. You want to go through each of the steps of the buying process until you reach the checkout point. And repeat that for every site you find.

You’re going to start seeing things you didn’t see before. Not just the product’s quality, but the buying experience is going to materialize into a factor as important as the fabric of the shirt being sold.

  • Were you constantly thinking about the high price you were about to pay on one site?
  • Was the checking out process of the other site so long that you forgot what you were buying in the first place?
  • Did any site offer you such a comfortable experience that you forced yourself to want something in order to play with the cool “create your own” feature?

These and a lot more questions are going to help you set the do’s and don’ts of your online business.

Yes, every customer is different, but at the end we all want the same thing. We want a good product that fits our needs, while getting as far away as possible from the fact that we just paid for it. Pretty much like every customer from the Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Online 007

There’s no better time to become an online corporate spy than days after Spectre, the latest James Bond movie, made its entrance to the movie theaters.

Now that you’ve learned what Joe likes and dislikes about his online buying experience, you need to create or edit your webpage so it fits your customer needs.

How? Easy, agent. Why torture your brain looking for the perfect bait when multi billion dollar companies have already done all the dirty work for you? The only thing you need to do is infiltrate, collect evidence, and escape.

Luckily for you, I also took that risk on your behalf. After much espionage, and the dangers that come with it, I found out that eBay and Amazon are the two biggest monsters in terms of successful online retail. Why?

Here’s why. This article contains 6 different lessons to take from those two sites, and if you go through them, you’ll understand that I just handed you a diamond disguised as digital data. Inside, you’ll find the following rules to follow in order to become the next big thing in the online marketing war.

  1. Personalized Products
  2. Feedback is King
  3. Clear Communication
  4. Geo Targeting is a Must
  5. Be Socially Savvy
  6. Persistence is Key

Read carefully every category’s description and start turning your site’s approach more towards a Build-A-Bear store and less like a Friday afternoon visit to the bank.

You should also check out this Digital Marketer article on niche selling with Amazon. It will show you the steps you need to take in becoming your own conversion guru no matter what your selling.

Remember, sometimes we just need to get into someone else’s shoes in order to understand what they truly want. And, why not? We can also do the same thing with the people who already did the experiment for us.