Do e-commerce sites have the ability to get offline and integrate themselves into the physical sphere of consumer culture? Once in a brick-and-mortar location do these e-tailers have any staying power?
On June 14th, I attended an event called "Elegance for All" at a pop-up shop for one of my all time favorite internet retailers, Modcloth. Modcloth is an apparel company with an emphasis on clothing that is vintage or retro. This was the first time this e-tailer had done anything like this, as typically their only presence is online. Hundreds of loyal customers got off their computers and into line on West 34th street last Friday night to do something totally new: shop for Modcloth dresses in-person. The store chose to open a location in New York City for one night to celebrate the expansion of their plus-sized collection and their dedication to producing and selling more plus-sized apparel in the future.
It all started when Modcloth reached out to their 1,500+ vendors asking them to create more plus-sized clothing to sell on the site. Initially only 35 of their designers agreed to do plus-size collections. Despite this initial lack of enthusiasm from vendors 100+ designers have since agreed to create collections for plus-sized buyers now and the pop-up shop was Modcloth's way to celebrate. The event was not just for plus-sized consumers, but for all of the e-tailer's customers.
I arrived with some of my girlfriends about a half hour before doors opened and there was already a line half way around the block. An incredible experience, it was fantastic to be able to actually try on clothing from the retailer whose dresses I've stared at longingly for the past few years, but have been nervous to shop online for. Since the clothing sold on the site is made by a myriad of designers, the sizes vary from dress to dress depending on factors like material, cut, where the zipper is, etc.
Modcloth is definitely not the first, nor will they be the last, e-commerce store to test out the brick-and-mortar market. Men's clothing retailer, Bonobos, and trendy glasses start-up, Warby Parker, are two of the most notable e-tailers who have created their first locations in NYC recently. While Bonobos still doesn't allow consumers to go home with a shopping bag, they have one article of every style of clothing in every size for consumers to try on. Once the customer has decided what they would like to purchase a sales associate will type in the customer's order online and it will be delivered to their home. Warby Parker, on the other hand has created a large space where consumers can wander freely and check out hundreds of pairs of glasses at their leisure. Between showrooms, large stores, and short-term pop-up shops it's clear that e-commerce stores are infiltrating the brick-and-mortar scene. What's driving this desire to move offline? Currently, the e-market is expanding and the online shopping is on the rise. There are even major fears that e-commerce stores will make brick-and-mortar stores irrelevant: so why is there still such an immense desire to create a physical location?
Here are five reasons that e-retailers are finding it beneficial create a physical presence:
1) Take the fear out of buying
One of the main reasons consumers shop online is because they are able to find the best deals. However, when a deal seems fantastic and it's not from a vendor a consumer is extremely familiar with it may appear too good to be true. Having a physical presence gives consumers a sense of trust in the brand.
2) Give a face to the company
Having a physical location will give the e-commerce store a chance to bring their brand to life. A brick-and-mortar location would help consumers to feel more connected to the brand, as they'll be dealing with real people as opposed to just a computer screen.
3) Further creating brand loyalty
Typically customers who make a first purchase in-store will be back to make a second purchase if they're happy with the product. That second purchase is often made online.
4) Making use of collected data
Online retailers have so much data collected, between where their consumers are buying from, what their consumers are buying, etc. These are pieces of information that would be advantageous to helping retailers understand how to successfully create a brick-and-mortar store. It could help to determine where to open a physical store front or what to stock their shelves with.
5) Majority of sales still occur offline
80 percent of sales still occur offline, despite the rise in online sales. This shows that expanding into the brick-and-mortar market would likely increase sales.
While creating a brick-and-mortar store will create many new challenges for retailers that have previously existed only online, pursuing a future as an omni-retailer appears to be the future of many e-tailers, despite the fact that it was often not part of the original business plan.
Do you think it is beneficial for all e-commerce sites to pursue a brick-and-mortar presence? Will brick-and-mortar stores ever truly become irrelevant?[Image: JPH – Juleskills – Flikr]