It’s probably because I am completely immersed in the online world that I am used to seeing online sites trying to drive customer acquisition and retention through offline activities. I did a double take when I saw Webkinz, the hugely popular toy sensation going the other way and using its online gaming/virtual world to drive purchase of its furry little stuffed pets and related knick knacks. For those of you who don’t know much about Webkinz, it’s a stuffed toy with an online avatar. In the highly addictive Webkinz world, you can feed, dress and exercise your ‘adopted’ pet. In addition, you can play games and earn Webkinz cash, which you can use to buy food, clothes, and even real estate for your pet.
But the only way you can get access to the virtual world is to buy one of the numerous furry critters and use the unique code that comes with each pet. Many kids as well as adults are hooked on the site, but there’s no option for those who want to just renew their acccounts at end of one year (when the account access ends), without buying yet one more of those stuffed critters.
Let’s be honest here, the Webkinz stuffed pets are cute, but they not all that interesting given the stiff competition from the other leading kids brands. If it wasn’t for the virtual world/online gaming, there’s really not much compelling about the Webkinz pets.
I think Ganz (the company that owns this virtual world phenomenon) has boxed itself into a corner because of its arrangement with the retailers who stock these furry critters. Its strategy isn’t all that surprising, given its traditional roots, which is gifts and stuffed pets. So here’s a hugely successful product idea that’s trapped by tradition.
Ganz could drive pure profit by having an online renewal option for Webkinz by allowing those with an existing account to renew without having to buy another stuffed creature. Hopefully, Ganz will reconsider its strategy and let the site thrive on its own merit rather than remain shackled to its offline merchandise.