Future of Commerce Blog

Why E-commerce Brands Are Experimenting With Physical Retail


A few weeks ago, we talked about how e-commerce brands are increasingly experimenting with physical retail. We cited a few stats on why this is a great approach for digitally native brands:

As we dove into the examples of how brands are capitalizing on these opportunities, we felt the need to dig deeper. How do these forays into physical retail really affect a digital brand?

Create an in-person connection with customers

You’ve probably heard the phrase “humanizing your brand,” and though it may be repeated often, that’s because it’s important. There’s one key area where brick-and-mortar retailers have a significant leg up on their online competition: face-to-face human interaction.

Whether you’re selling at a farmer’s market or executing an aggressive pop-up shop strategy, this gives you a chance to create an authentic relationship with customers; staff members act as a human representation of your brand. Without this interaction, it’s tough for online sellers to create an impactful, interpersonal relationship with customers.

Increase your online presence

Note how L2’s Intelligence Report concluded that online brands that engage in physical retail receive a digital boost. This is an amazing insight: You can use a one-time brick-and-mortar approach to feed your ongoing digital efforts.

Why is this? For one, when online brands test physical retail, it creates a buzz in the industry. This leads to potential press coverage and social media chatter. St. Ives had a pop-up event in New York City, and there were tons of social media posts hashtagged with #StIvesMixingBar.

Instagram Physical Retail Article

Brands can use visual merchandising as a way to create a community on social media by creating Instagram-worthy displays, mirrors for selfies, plus a branded hashtag which extends their in-person event online. This can drive shoppers who can’t physically attend to go to your site to shop your wares.

Growing brand Black n Bianco wanted to build brand awareness in advance of their expansion into wholesale. “We wanted our brand and products to be available to consumers who would normally never find us online,” says Lisa Chu, owner of the store. “We knew our branding would hold up against other established brands if the consumers felt, touched, and wore our products.”

They attended the MAGIC trade show in Las Vegas, a fashion industry event, to spread the word. “Our intention was to grow our brand awareness,” says Chu. “What we found is a new and legitimate avenue to generate more revenue and profit for our business.”

Test new markets and concepts

Interested in expanding your business geographically? Before you go all-in on a new location, whether it’s opening a new warehouse or your first permanent retail store, you can use temporary physical retail to test it out. This reduces the amount of investment required, but can also glean enough insight to determine whether expansion in an area is viable.

Take a look at your sales data and see where most of your customers are located. Where are they buying from, and where are they shipping to? Those should be your first areas of focus.

You can also flip it around and use in-person selling as a way to collect. That’s what women’s intimate apparel brand Evelyn & Bobbie does. When the brand launched their first pop-up in Venice, California, one of their main goals was to learn more about their customers.

“[We wanted] to gather and collect fit data to keep improving our algorithm online, where customers can input a series of measurements and then be assigned to their correct sizing,” says social media coordinator Cassie Pauley.

“It’s radically changed our business model as we shifted from selling entirely online,” Pauley says. “We’ve also branched into wholesale, realizing that our underwear (we call them Knickers) is popular in bridal boutiques, dance studios, etc.”

Eliminate hesitation

Brick-and-mortar shoppers can physically touch, see, feel, smell, and even wear the product. This is one of the biggest reasons why they prefer in-store to online shopping, according to a survey conducted by Retail Dive. Online, shoppers are limited to whatever product photos the seller has decided to share, and those images may not always accurately or adequately represent the product.

By experimenting with physical retail, online brands can eliminate customer hesitation by allowing them to experience the product in person. Brands can hold demos that serve as proof that the product works as it should, and customers can test it out for themselves.

TheraSpecs showcases their eyewear–intended to help headaches and migraines–at trade shows. A large part of TheraSpecs’s business comes from medical professional referrals. At trade shows, they can connect with these doctors and prove their claim. “If they’ve used our glasses to relieve their own pain, then they feel confident in how the product might benefit a patient under similar circumstances,” says Greg Bullock, Marketing Manager at TheraSpecs.

“The clinical research has always been there to support how and why our lenses are effective, but this adds another layer of firsthand reinforcement,” Bullock says. “Word-of-mouth from one TheraSpecs user to another has always been a powerful ally in our growth.”

Provide added services

As retail becomes increasingly competitive and brands continue to compete on delivering a positive customer experience, some are expanding into offering services as well. The Alpine Modern Cafe, for example, is both a shop and restaurant.

However, you don’t need a permanent location to go the extra mile. Nordstrom, for example, has launched its Nordstrom Local pop-up locations. The stores are merchandise-free. Instead of selling product, they provide styling services, alterations, and curbside pick-up.

Not interested in providing services? Host events, workshops or classes that your target customer would be interested in. Aerie hosted pop-up in Boulder, Colorado with a DIY essential oil-mixing station. Employees provided the ingredients, and shoppers could follow printed instructions to complete it themselves. Though not an online-only brand, it was another way to elevate the event and give back to customers.


Twitter Physical Retail Article

Misha Kaura, who owns her fashion label MISHA KAURA, uses pop-up shops as an avenue into physical retail. She pops up in different locations to directly engage with and provide complementary services to her customers. She’s now on a first-name basis with all of her customers, thanks to her multi-channel approach.

“It’s hard to have an in-person relationship and promote our ethos of slow fashion on the computer,” Kaura says. “That personal touch, with a glass of Champagne and custom fitting experiences help our clients enjoy a personal moment away from the hustle and bustle of larger department stores.”

Interested in seeing HOW e-commerce brands are trying physical retail? Read on >

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