June 25, 2013

The Living, Breathing Website

Posted by: in North America

Bonobos’ Guideshops are missing cash registers, inventory and pretty much everything else you’d need to actually buy something. That’s because the online men’s clothing retailer, which made its name selling well-tailored pants, is using its six locations as physical portals into its e-commerce site. Customers try on samples and check out colors and patterns, then order from the in-store computers for home delivery. Similarly, Warby Parker, the innovative online eyeglass retailer, recently opened a flagship store in New York, complete with Internet-connected photo booths to share images of try-ons and tablets where customers can purchase their selections online.

The idea is to turn stores into “living, breathing websites,” as some have put it—places where customers have access to a huge inventory from a relatively small space. Both online and traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are experimenting with locations that connect with customers in person while guiding them to the Web for some or all purchases. Along with Bonobos and Warby Parker, Gap’s Piperlime online brand opened a showroom-style retail outlet in Manhattan last year. Meanwhile, last week Staples announced two “omnichannel” stores that are significantly smaller than the typical Staples location and feature several kiosks where customers can order items for free, next-business-day delivery. This format, which Staples is touting as “the future of retail,” has been adopted by a range of other retailers, including Canadian electronics chain Future Shop and outdoor gear purveyor Moosejaw Mountaineering.

With nearly half of younger affluent consumers having made an online purchase via a mobile device in the last three months and many in-store shoppers “showrooming” (looking for better prices online after seeing the physical goods), retailers will need to mix and match the best of the physical and virtual buying environments to keep shoppers interested and meet a range of needs.

Image credit: Warby Parker

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