Webkinz: An example of a disruptive customer experience strategy

I’m a big believer in good research practices — forming hypotheses and then developing plans for proving or disproving them. But sometimes, you have to leave open the possibility for serendipitous insights. One of those times happened to me a few months ago in a strange place, my home. After about the tenth time I had to yank my 10 year-old daughter away from the computer, I checked out what she was doing. Well, she was playing at the Webkinz.com Website. It turns out that this is the hottest thing for my daughter and all of her friends.

If you haven’t been exposed to Webkinz, here’s how it works — you buy a stuffed animal in the toy store that comes with a code, you input the code at the Webkinz site, and then you manage the life of your new animal on the Webkinz site. Well, my daughter and her friends are constantly playing games, nurturing their animals, and interacting with other Webkinz owners in this virtual world. As a parent, I was actually impressed with the Website — the kids have to take educational tests to get points and there’s no way to pass any personal information between “inhabitants.”

WebKinz is definitely a view into the future; here are just a few of the lessons that we can learn from it…

  • Social computing will only grow stronger. Forrester identified a growing phenomena where consumers interact with each other through emerging channels that we’ve called Social Computing. This trend explains the growing popularity of sites like MySpace, Second Life, and YouTube. After seeing all of the 10 year old kids flocking to Webkinz, it’s clear that this phenomena will continue to grow.
  • Experiences aren’t just bilateral anymore. Given that consumers will get increasingly comfortable interacting with each other through a wide host of mechanisms, companies can’t just think of creating experiences that connect the company with its customers. Firms will need to think about how they help customers connect up with each other. 
  • “Online infusion” can be a disruptive strategy. Webkinz does a great job of combining a physical product (stuffed anumal) with digital features (online virtual world). It’s also the case for NetFlix with it’s movie selection & queue management capabilities (digital) augmenting the DVDs delivered by mail (physical).  To some degree, the Nintendo Wii also crosses this line with it’s highly interactive controllers. Given the high degree of comfort that consumers have developed for doing things online, there are many more opportunities for crossing this physical/digital divide. (In my research report called Five Disruptive Customer Experience Strategies,” I labelled this as an “online infusion” strategy.)  
  • Ganz is sitting on a gold mine. The parent company of the Webkinz site is Ganz, a privately held company that is headquartered in Toronto. Given the level of “addiction” to Webkinz that I’ve seen, the company has a lot of opportunities ahead.

If you haven’t experienced Webkinz yet, it’s worth taking a look. And if you have little kids, you may not have any other choice!

Written by 

I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

9 thoughts on “Webkinz: An example of a disruptive customer experience strategy”

  1. As a parent, I definitely wish my daughter wasn’t so “addicted” to the site — so I don’t love the concept. But as a strategy advisor to large firms, I can’t help but recommend that they understand the Webkinz approach. It can be a useful model for doing much more than just selling toys to kids.

  2. I agree, it is a trend that we are only going to see more of. While my tweens aren’t yet into Myspace, their friends are. So, as a mom I feel I really have to understand where this is all going.

    I just read an article (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/PCWorld/story?id=3291665) in which they say that Toyota is “already using virtual worlds as a way to get preteens and teenagers interested in its Scion entry level car brand, which is targeted at younger buyers. What is spooky is that earlier this evening my 15 year old, out of the blue, asked me what a Scion was…

    I see Webkinz as an entry level training ground for our kids. Their online experiences will be even more than we can imagine right now. I am not sure I like it all, but I feel we have to understand it and try to shape it. Webkinz is a safe environment, but many won’t be.

  3. I see where your coming from , webkinz is a very well brought up website but they don’t stay up all night (the website is closing down at 12:00 and reopens at 5:00 in the morning but I am not sure if there tinking of the kids sleeping habits or what but first of all it isn’t there place to be telling kids to go to bed at a certain time it is there parents so maybe thay should rethink that nobody can say that there child goes to bed at exactly 12:00 or earlier at a willing pace and if there are children in a different areas that have different times, so they are shutting down there webste in the middle of the day for thoose children! So I think, myself, that they should change the times or better off just just not have a shutting down time at all!
    Thanks for listening I really like where your going this speech, about the myspace and youtube things, webkinz( other than the timing thing is a thing) is a really good website.

  4. Webkinz is not the only phenomenon – my 12 YO son is hooked on Club Penguin and my 14 YO daughter is still occasionally hanging around Neopets. As a parent, youth group leader, and Girl Scout leader my concern with this generation is that many have precious little ‘real’ interaction. My kids are limited to one hour of ‘screen time’ a day and don’t have cell phones, but most of their friends spend hours online, and even in a group of friends are more focused on their text messages than their friends in front of them. Some kids who come to our house don’t know what do with themselves since I tell my kids if you have a friend over you are supposed to be with them, not stare at a screen. My kids are fine with that but some of their friends are dumbfounded at the prospect of several hours of unplugged time and not sure how to handle it. Have had girls drop out of my troop because I banned texting and cell phone calls during troop functions and meetings. Guess I am a dinosaur but still think live interaction should be a skill set. Not sure what that says for this upcoming generation..

  5. Donna: Thanks for the comment! Club Penguin hasn’t yet shown up in my house — thanks for the head’s up. As for this new generation, I am just completing research that profiles Gen Y (18 to 27 year-olds) in order to help firms design experience to better meet their needs. And, guess what, they are a different breed. I presented some early findings at Forrester’s Consumer Forum — you can see some of that in my post called: “A View Of Forrester’s Consumer Forum.” I’m not sure how this generation will communicate in the future (maybe they’ll just abandon direct, offline interactions entirely), but I agree that there are many times when they should concentrate more on what’s right in front of them — like at a Girl Scout Troup Meeting. While we’re on this topic, I am also concerned about their ability to do basic math (as opposed to pulling out calculators on their cell phones and PCs) and their ability to spell (Microsoft’s spell-checker and Google’s “did you mean” have created a phenomenon called “close enough” spelling).

  6. On the positive side of the Webkinz addiction, I have found that allowing my daughter to earn computer time in return for doing all her chores and behaving politely is a very effective parenting strategy!

Leave a Reply