Build-A-Bear shop forced to close as offer sparks chaos
The Build-A-Bear toy shop in Belfast was forced to close yesterday after chaos descended on the store, with reports of assaults as shoppers hunted down a cut-price offer.
The stuffed teddy company was holding a nationwide 'pay-your-age' promotion which saw thousands make their way to the stores.
There were reports of "punch-ups", children getting fingers caught in doors and even a pregnant member of staff being assaulted.
The retailer said there had been an "unprecedented" response to the promotion in which customers pay the age of the child they are accompanying for one of a range of stuffed toys, which normally cost around £20.
Crowds of bargain hunters queued up for the bargains at the Victoria Square outlet yesterday.
However, it soon descended into chaos with the shop management taking the decision to pull down the shutters and call the police.
"All hell broke loose," said one parent.
The woman said a dispute appeared to kick off after someone "bunked the queue". "My sister-in-law had been there from 9.30am and got in at around noon. It was madness so we decided to get something to eat instead," she said.
"We were walking out and I asked one of the police there what the craic was and he just said, 'This is the riot I didn't think I would be at today'.
"But it was just a PR disaster - everyone was so annoyed.
"I think everyone just thought it was the Twelfth and no one would be showing up."
Mum Elizabeth McGrogan was left to console her disappointed daughter, who had been hopeful of getting a bear when they set off on Thursday morning.
"Absolute carnage over a fluffy bear," she said.
"The manager was crying at the front door in front of kids and parents ... awful."
A Build-a-Bear spokeswoman said safety concerns forced the store's closure.
"The safety of our guests and employees is our top priority," she said. "We are aware of the situation in Belfast and in the interest of the safety of our employees and our guests, this store has been closed."
She added: "The response to our Pay Your Age Day event at all of our UK locations has been overwhelming and unprecedented in our 21-year history.
"The crowds have greatly exceeded our expectations and, per local authorities, queues have been closed and we cannot accept additional guests at our UK stores due to extreme crowds and safety concerns."
The PSNI said they attended at around 12.40pm to "maintain order". A spokesman added: "No offences have been detected at this time."
The HotUKDeals website posted on Facebook yesterday morning: "Uh oh ... Build a Bear pay your age event is drawing INSANE crowds. People are being told NOT to go as at least three stores have been forced to close due to sheer numbers of people turning up and worries for people's safety."
Neil Saunders, managing director of analysts GlobalData Retail, said: "The decision to shut stores and end the promotion early was necessary on both safety and operational grounds, but it will damage the brand.
"A lot of parents are now upset that they cannot fulfil promises to their children, and many who made special trips to malls are frustrated that their efforts have come to nothing.
"In our view, Build-A-Bear is going to have to take some action to remedy this, maybe by offering deals and special offers to those affected.
"This could have a future impact on profits, although it will be helpful to sales volumes."