Once You Go Digital, You’ll Still Come Back:
Why Online Retailers are making the Move to Brick-and-Mortar
Online retailers have been giving standard brick-and-mortar retail giants a run for their money since Amazon became the new kid on the block. Offline retailers suddenly had to set up worthy online presences to stay in the game while still trying to get consumers literally in the front door. But now, for those who survived the online invasion, there’s about to be another curveball that will, yet again, change the world of retail: the digital rivals are coming to the streets. And around the block.
Warby Parker. Rent the Runway. Birchbox. Amazon. Pretty soon these won’t just be other browser tabs you might have open while reading this article, but stores that will be popping up near you. And they’re just the beginning.
How Are They Pulling This Off?
Having their origins in e-commerce, these historically exclusively online retailers have access to a data goldmine of rich consumer insights that physical brick-and-mortar stores are unable to match. Being able to leverage this data will help to make their offline expansions as relatively seamless, risk-free and profitable as possible in a variety of ways:
• Location. When deciding where to set up shop, online retailers can readily identify which markets will be the most lucrative and therefore less risky to enter based on online sales data and tracked areas of high consumer demand and activity.
While some may argue these retailers are gambling with having to face higher expenses dues to new overhead and sales staff expenses, there’s still an upside. By strategically placing their storefronts, retailers can cut down on their current operational expenses, such as shipping costs, given the new location’s ability to also serve as an operational or distribution center.
• Design. Its no secret consumers are happiest when they’re able to have an experience with a brand that feels personalized to them. The layouts of these newly formed stores will leverage online behavior data to ensure consumers are getting a more custom shopping experience when searching for products in-store than a traditional retailer.
For example: Amazon Books, the ironic newly opened bookstore in Seattle, has leveraged and reflected known consumer browsing habits into their store layout and display case arrangements. They have even incorporated quotes from online readers’ reviews and star ratings to allow offline shoppers to still have the same Amazon purchasing experience as if they were buying it online.
Bonobos, a once-exclusively online retailer, has taken the concept of personalized shopping experience to a whole new level through its uniquely designed “guide shops”. The shops themselves have very little inventory onsite, typically with just one variation of each item on the showroom floor. They also have samples of all sizes, colors fits, and fabrics in stock at all times for consumers to come in and test out, with the assistance of their guide (note: no sales associates here!). What’s most interesting about the guide shop concept is that consumers don’t actually leave the store with any items in hand. Bonobos has arranged this offline shopping experience solely with the intent of providing a richer experience for the consumer by allowing them to identify the perfect size and fit before their order is placed. Consumers are able to place an order and have it shipped to them for free, just as if they had ordered it online.
Why Is This Happening & What Does it Mean for Retail?
E-commerce has become flooded with competition and the Internet only provides so many design and UX options for online retailers to truly differentiate themselves. Why not go offline? Offline storefronts allow the opportunity to make a brand stand out from the rest through unique customizations that can not only drive interest but also impulsive store entering, longer browsing and engagement times and a tactile interaction with the product…all areas where online falls short.
So we’ll see where this next wave of merged offline and online retail takes us. But if I were you, I would count on seeing a lot more of your favorite browser tabs following this trend of jumping out of the computer screen to down the road and around the corner from you.