About three years ago, I penned a column about how my in-store experience at a PetSmart, fueled mostly by a helpful employee, made me a customer for life. I’m not oblivious to the benefits of browsing online, but my purchasing process mainly happens in the store. I don’t see that changing. So you could imagine my excitement in reading – in print, mind you – a story in a recent issue of Inc. about how digital-first retail-world stalwarts such as Bonobos and Warby Parker share my appreciation for bricks and mortar.
In 2007, Andy Dunn, cofounder of Bonobos menswear, helped create an online consumer brand with current annual revenue of about $100 million. One of his boldest ideas was creating physical locations, called Guideshops, to facilitate online transactions.
"People still like to feel the product and receive great personal service," he told Inc. "People were buying in droves without walking out of the store with anything."
Today, there are 17 such locations in the US that account for roughly 20% of sales. These stores fuel online sales and help the business grow, all while allowing Bonobos to stay true to its digital-first roots.
The explanation Warby Parker’s co-CEO Neil Blumenthal gave as to why he opened up shops was even more direct. "We thought having a store where people could physically experience the brand would strengthen it," he said.
The man behind a digital-first company that reached a $1.2 billion valuation after four years believes in bricks and mortar. Retail is not an either-or scenario. Digital offerings should not render the physical experience meaningless, nor vice versa. In fact, each one should enhance and support the other. It’s telling that visionaries such as Dunn and Blumenthal have embraced this. So has Bayard Winthrop, CEO of uber-cool hoodie brand American Giant and co-author of I F**king Love That Company. "Never in the history of retail has the opportunity to build a brand been better," he wrote in his book.
The nascence of social media (websites, mobile, apps, and more) is exhilarating in its infinite possibilities, but the classic power of touch (stores, kiosks, and the like) creates a powerful combination. For marketers, it’s not the best of both worlds, it’s the best of all worlds. And consumers are the beneficiaries when you ponder what brands – digital-first and traditional alike – have in store for them.
Gideon Fidelzeid is managing editor of PRWeek. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.