Offline is the new Online

Posted on Posted in retail strategy

The very model of a modern e-comm business is one built not just in bits and bytes, but bricks and mortar. Increasingly, that’s a given. But what’s more interesting to me is not the trend, but what the online guys are doing with the physical space, how they are reaping rewards, and how that challenges all of us to rethink the four walls of a store.

I’ve written recently about Warby Parker, the US online eyewear retailer, and Bonobos, the American e-comm men’s apparel store. Both put their toes in the water of real-world retail, and when they liked the temperature, they dove right in.

A recent article in PandoDaily (the “site of record of Silicon Valley”) related the kind of pro-duck-tivity (as the Yanks pronounce it) that these two digital players are getting out of an offline retail environment, in stores less than 100 square metres. “(Warby’s revenues) were higher than Tiffany’s at their New York headquarters…(selling) US$80 glasses. Bonobos puts up similarly impressive numbers on its US$80 chinos.”

How do they do it? Well, in the case of Bonobos, the stores are not warehouses for stock, so they don’t need the space of a regular shop. There is no “backroom”, it’s all showroom. The stores are (in Bonobos’ parlance) “guideshops”, where men can try on clothes to ensure a perfect fit, but not take their selections away. Customers either buy online in store, or after their visit, and the goods are delivered promptly. Initially, I thought that was a questionable proposition. Once you’ve made a decision to buy, don’t you want the items then and there? Turns out I’m wrong because the stores are working very well indeed, and Bonobos plans to double its locations over the next 12 months.

Out of interest, Bonobos has also struck a deal with US department store Nordstrom, to stock and sell its product across 70 locations. So they are well and truly sold on real-world retail.

Online merchants bring a fresh perspective to what can take place in a physical space. And it has to be more than just stocking stuff and selling stuff. Luxury online cycle-wear retailer Rapha is opening “cycle clubs” around the world, where MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) can not only touch the product, but buy into the entire experience – sharing a coffee and biking tales, watching the big race on the big screen, taking part in a ride from the store.

I visited a Rapha Cycle Club in London recently and learned from their head of retail that Rapha is getting phenomenal results out of its bricks-and-mortar environments. Like Bonobos, they too are rolling out stores at a rapid pace, and in fact, have just opened in Sydney’s Surry Hills.

My challenge to traditional retailers is simple: don’t be constrained by the “rules” of how physical stores have always worked. Don’t think about what has been, but what could be. Think outside the box.

8 thoughts on “Offline is the new Online

  1. Althought, I don’t like the retail strategy of Bonobos, I agree that the traditional retailers should think more outside the box. Thanks for the post Mr. Bird!

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