Brick & Mortar or Ecommerce? Neither

In Customer Engagement, Customer Experience, Featured on App, Marketing and Sales by Kevin Kelly


"It's really a crisis for my business. I want to build my brand but I don't know where," an excited entrepreneur told me last night.

"What do you mean where?"

This entrepreneur, visiting from Paris for the week, wants to launch a line of branded men's clothing and accessories. Beyond the typical trials and tribulations of brand launching, his most pressing issue is whether to invest in a brick and mortar location or an ecommerce platform.

I can't say I'm a venture capitalist but I can attest to the reality of this entrepreneur's dilemma. In fact, it's representative of a common discourse in the retail industry: Is ecommerce really everything? Can the brick and mortar customer experience be forfeited for an ecommerce experience? What about ecommerce within the store? How do you decide between the two?

There is no right answer. I think the best branding and retail experience is precisely grey: neither totally online nor completely brick and mortar.

Aside: I went to Urban Outfitters yesterday and tried on about 10 different items, found 4 of those items on for less than half of the in store price, and used the in store wifi to complete the purchase.

Customers want great experience and competitive price points. Perhaps the brand itself can guide the strategy. As a first step, I would recommend coming up with the story and narrative behind a brand. From there, the narrative drive of your brand can thrive online and/or make it into a physical store experience. A great brand launching strategy is an omnichannel solution that is physical and digital (and I think physicality can be marketed successfully through a well curated Instagram, for instance.)

The point of sale decision, whether it be in store or online, should reflect how the narrative of brand emerged: is it an immediate experience? How much inventory do you have and is their space for that? What benefits can an online store offer that a physical store cannot and vice versa for your brand?

Brands can now be launched online and in many ways, I think the Parisian entrepreneur is slated for success. Warby Parker and Bonobos have demonstrated the successes of online brand launches. But at the end of the day, consumers want some experience rooted in reality. So not much of a surprise when ecommerce site Warby Parker opened a retail store.

Enhance that wanted reality with online technology or enhance online technology with reality.

Learn more about these initiatives at the US 2013 Customer Festival this October where top marketers and c-levels will be discussing tangible marketing solutions.

[photo – flickr jenny818 ]