Retailers are Thinking Inside the Box
Traditionally a company opens a store, expands to e-commerce and then works to integrate its online and in-store sales. However, some retailers have followed the opposite approach. Despite the shift toward online shopping, a number of brands have turned the tables, first developing their virtual presence, and later moving into the physical space. Companies know that customers are shopping online more than ever, but people still crave in-person experiences and interactions. The focus is on e-commerce because that’s a growing segment, but it doesn’t mean that traditional physical brick-and-mortar stores are going away anytime soon. Malls bring an opportunity to expose brands. Companies have realized that to build volume and scale, they need to have multiple channels of distribution.
The athletic wear brand Athleta launched e-commerce operations in 1999, but physical stores didn’t follow until more than 10 years later. Gap Inc. acquired Athleta in 2008 and brought the brand to the physical space in 2011. The chain currently has about 80 stores, and plans to expand to 100 locations this year. Piperlime is another Gap Inc. name that started online. After launching a pop-up shop in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood in 2010, the brand opened the doors to a permanent location a few blocks away in 2012. In contrast to Gap Inc.’s other stores, Piperlime sells a variety of third-party brands, from Diane von Furstenberg to French Connection.
After five years as an online-only retailer, Bonobos expanded into brick-and-mortar in 2012, opening in-store shops in 20 Nordstrom locations. The brand has since expanded its presence at Nordstrom, and is also available at a handful of Belk stores. It operates 10 of its own shops, called Bonobos Guideshop. Although fashion accessory label BaubleBar started out online, the co-founders set their sights on brick-and-mortar from day one. The ladies believe it’s the touch and feel of their products that let consumers understand what BaubleBar is all about. After operating a pop-up store in New York City last summer, the moderately-priced brand launched an exclusive collection with Anthropologie, and is also sold at Nordstrom stores. The BaubleBar order size at retail stores is about three times what it is online.
Chico’s acquired the online and catalog business Boston Proper in 2011. The company soon decided to bring the brand to the physical space. After initially opening four stores in Florida, the company now has 13 physical locations. Stores in Atlanta and Miami are coming soon. The fashion-forward eyewear brand Warby Parker kicked off as an online-only retailer in 2010. The company now operates eight independent stores and eight showrooms across the country and is exploring options for stores in new markets.
Birchbox, the monthly sample beauty product delivery brand opened a physical store in New York City earlier this year. The permanent store follows a string of pop-up shops in New York. Although the brands founders never expected the mail-subscription brand to open brick-and-mortar locations, it became a logical step in the brand’s evolution. JustFab and Rent the Runway both opened their first physical stress last month. There is also buzz of Amazon opening a physical location, possibly in Manhattan. The list of companies goes on.