Over the past 20 years we have seen a stampede of traditional retailers adding an online channel, with almost all now offering some form of Click & Collect as part of their service proposition.
Pure players though appeared to be already ahead of the game with speed to market, technological advancements, endless aisles and lower cost base modeling as the dominant factor for them to remain solely online.
e-Tailers taking baby steps or giant leaps into brick-and-mortar space
Recently however we are seeing a reverse movement within the pure-play arena, with some now dipping their toes into the brick-and-mortar space.
Let’s take the example that has been creating the most buzz over the past few weeks: Amazon. Whilst they have never actually cited the reasons why they swayed towards opening their first Seattle based bookstore last year, there has been mounting speculation in the press over recent days that they are aiming to open 400 more stores around the globe. This has yet to be confirmed or denied by an Amazon rep.
Time to embrace showrooming?
It is fair to say this is not a new phenomenon. Several notable retailers in the past seem to have effectively stemmed the bridge between the online and physical channels with many initially trialing both customer demand and interest through pop-up stores, shop-in-shop concepts or digital showrooms.
Made.com now has 4 digitally interactive showrooms, the latest opening in Soho, London. On-demand digital walls showcase their extensive product offering, all of which is carefully merchandized and blended with the actual physical furniture within the space. Customers can then opt to order directly from the supplier via access to their website in the store, or takeaway product postcards and fabric swatches for consideration at home.
And they are not the first. Warby Parker, a US-based optics online player embarked on the concept of showrooms where they don’t actually hold any inventory; instead customers try on sample stock within the store before creating an account and ordering online.
Equally, Bonobos, a fashion brand for men, have been able to extend their customer reach with the opening of 20 guideshops across the US and the introduction of several pop-ups in Nordstrom stores, a move which seems to have been met with measurably great success.
Is the physical store actually the digital channel of the future?
So is the ability to increase brand awareness and customer engagement the major driver behind these recent moves, or are e-tailers recognizing that the walls which once separated the off and online channels are beginning to fall?
In essence, by effectively utilizing showrooming as a concept to be embraced rather than a threat, could it be to the traditional store-operating model begins to emerge as the channel that actually helps drive online sales rather than hemorrhage them?
“In part, Web retailers are grappling with the realization that even after years of strong online-sales growth, some 90% of shopping is still done in physical stores”
We wait with anticipation to see what the next move will be in this intriguing game of retail-chess.
Does Warby Parker Need Actual Stores? – Slate.com
Online Retailers Find Stores Bring Customers to Web – Dow Jones Business News via Nasdaq.com