Why the Top Ecommerce Brands Are Moving Into Physical Retail (And What You Can Learn From Them)

That’s right, the hottest and fastest growing ecommerce companies are all thinking past selling strictly online and are all moving towards integrating some variation of physical retail.

Which also means they’re rethinking the traditional divide between offline and online and venturing into omni-channel retail.

In fact, when you take things into consideration, despite the fact that ecommerce sales grew 5 percent to roughly $65 billion in 2013, it's still a sliver of total retail sales. Actually, we're talking less than a sliver, more like only 5.8 percent out of a $1,126.2 billion market just in the U.S. alone. So, isn't it time you started thinking about the world of offline selling?

This post will walk you through what Bonobos, Warby Parker and Indochino, three of the biggest ecommerce brands, have been attempting recently with physical retail - along with their future outlook on where commerce is going. So when the time comes to grow your online store through moving offline, you’ll know how the best did it and how you can start doing it too. 

Bonobos: Taking the Leap 

“There is a problem in being online-only, which is: it’s not a great service experience to not be able to try on clothes before you buy them, if that’s what you want to do.” - Andy Dunn, CEO, Bonobos

Started by two Stanford business grads in 2007 by selling what it dubbed simply a “perfect” pair of khakis, Bonobos has grown to become a ecommerce heavyweight with their hands in a number of men’s products lines. Despite the company's massive online success, CEO Andy Dunn wanted to experiment with physical retail spaces after repeated requests from customers who wanted to try on items before they buy them. So just what did he do? He posted two sales representatives in the lobby of their office showcasing their products and found them generating more than $250,000 in sales each.

After seeing those results, his solution to the "online vs. offline conundrum" was the Guide Shop, a place where prospective customers could make an appointment, try on their wares, place an order online, and have their purchased goods delivered the very next day. Today the company has more 10 locations across the U.S. where they deliver a seamless and vertically integrated shopping experience

But you don't need to splurge on a permanent retail location or expensive POS technology to give your customers the "Guide Shop" experience, consider these much more accessible locations and open a pop-up shop to start testing the waters with as as little as an iPad or your mobile phone.

Warby Parker: Going to Your Customers

 “The future of our business and the future of all retail will have some online component and offline component.”  - David Gilboa, Co-Founder, Warby Parker

Originally started as a online only eyewear business in 2010, Warby Parker has leveraged ecommerce to its fullest potential by designing everything in house and cutting out the middlemen to offer its high quality products at significantly lower prices. 

However, the company has never been afraid to experiment with pop-up stores and satisfying peoples desires to try and feel their glasses before making a purchase. True to its brand, the company’s latest retail adventure called “Class Trip” involved driving a big yellow bus across America and stopping in select cities to set up shop. Another avenue Warby Parker has attempted are kiosks in hotels it calls “The Readery” where it pairs its 1960’s look to its glasses with vintage books and periodicals from the era. It shows no sign of slowing down its retail experiments anytime soon. 

Inspired to take your business on the road? Check out some tips from our "50 Ways to Your First Sale" guide and you'll be well on your way to starting your engine to grow your business.

Indochino: Creating a Wicked Retail Experience

 “Pop-up retail is something we have committed to doing because it’s the best way to create a wicked retail experience.”  - Kyle Vucko, CEO, Indochino 

The seller of custom men’s suits has been blazing a trail for itself with its online shop since 2007 based out of Vancouver, Canada. However, even Indochino has had customers want to touch, feel, and see in order to feel comfortable with ordering a custom made suit. 

That demand resulted in the launch of its “Traveling Tailor” pop-up stores which pair expert stylists and tailors with customers who leave with their measurements, an Indochino account, and tips on how to pick the perfect pocket square and tie. The company has been hitting up major cities across North America and cites it as a perfect vehicle to respond to changing demands in the marketplace. It also understands that the word “fit” can have many different connotations, which is why it offers a $75 credit for having a suit tailored post-purchase. 

Regardless of how long you’ve been around, how big or how small you are, you can take a page from Indochino's book and give your customers a pop-up store experience they'll never forget. Think bigger than just selling offline, think of it more like creating the hottest party in town like these guys have and get people excited about what you have to offer. 

These are just a few examples that go to show just how online stores can reap big benefits from testing the physical retail waters. You could literally incur a fraction of the cost required compared with opening up an actual retail store to start off with. So, why not take the plunge and give offline selling a shot? Who knows, it could be the best thing that ever happened to your business.