The best of both worlds: When e-commerce and brick and mortar unite

Everlane San Francisco Store

Everlane San Francisco Store

“What sets most of these winning retailers apart is that they deeply understand the unique role of a physical shopping experience...They know that digital drives physical and vice versa … and they embrace the blur that shopping has become.”
— Steve Dennis, Forbes

Any shopper knows the dilemma: You needed a chic dress for an event, like, yesterday. But do you buy something online, paying hefty shipping fees, risk it not fitting or not showing up and deal exclusively with robots? Or, do you drag yourself into a store, waste precious time sifting through racks and be met with dubious levels of service from over-worked shop assistants?

Neither option is all that appealing. Most of us in this situation will end up opting to re-wear something we already had in our closet.

This all-too-familiar scenario is something clever companies want to harness, deconstruct and simplify, but it’s a risky game. Opening a store requires paying for real estate, construction and design, staff, electricity – you name it.

Staying strictly digital may allow for growth, but it also gambles with customer dissatisfaction, a lack of a concrete (literal and figurative) presence in a competitive market and decreased brand awareness.

To pull off both, you need to get tactical.

In his piece, ‘Physical stores: assets or liabilities?’ Forbes retail writer Steve Dennis points out: “The retailers that consistently deliver a remarkable retail experience, regardless of channel, are closing few if any stores.

Warby Parker New Jersey Store

Warby Parker New Jersey Store

“What sets most of these winning retailers [like Apple and Lululemon] apart is that they deeply understand the unique role of a physical shopping experience in a customer's journey and act accordingly. They know that digital drives physical and vice versa … and they embrace the blur that shopping has become.”

Blur is right. There are no guiding principles or customer loyalty anymore. People want immediacy, value for money, quality (to a degree) and service that doesn’t feel too personal, but intimate enough for them to feel seen, not harassed. Phew.

In a somewhat surprising twist in recent years, plenty of digital-only stores are changing up their strategy to incorporate brick-and-mortar stores.

After swearing they’d never get physical, US clothing company Everlane (known for its elegant basics and quality cashmere) went and opened two shopfronts. And they nailed it.

How? As’s Rohini Venkatraman explains, “through its online offering, Everlane learned that customers want to be able to touch and feel products before purchasing”.

“Everlane took this learning and spent two years experimenting on different types of stores. The physical stores represent less a change of course for the company and more a deep investment in meeting customer needs.”

TWO YEARS. Now that is commitment to your craft. Big US stores like glasses retailer Warby Parker, mega-store Amazon, fashion hub Reformation and cult makeup brand Glossier have done the same.

Glossier NY Store

Glossier NY Store

In some ways, opening a store in a digital era is an act of humility and generosity. It’s an acknowledgement that no one can anticipate or dictate the changing retail landscape and no one is immune to change, and it’s a nod to customers wanting a multifaceted shopping experience to suit their multifaceted lifestyles.

The Conversation condensed all the elements of successful brick-and-mortar offerings into this article that highlights the survival tactics stores have up their sleeves in the e-commerce era.

Here are the five most crucial:

1.    Experiences: People crave interaction and a sense of personalization. That could be as simple as a chocolate shop that offers a free sample every time you go in, to one-one-one free consultations with an in-store expert about skincare or fitness.

2.    People: Amazing staff can go a long way. As The Conversation points out, Apple’s Genius Bar is evidence that if your staff know your brand inside out and are enthusiastic and helpful, they’re half the sale.

3.    Environment: The article also points out that a good store creates an environment that’s “a place you want to stay”. It smells nice, it’s peaceful, the music is great, the people are chill and it’s a little oasis away from the hustle and bustle of life.

4.    Simplicity: The purchase process must be as fuss-free as possible. No pressure, no loopholes, no queues. Just an easy, seamless process that takes you straight from browsing to buying.

5.    Rewards: Recognizing customer loyalty and repaying them for taking the effort to leave their laptop and actually come into a store will not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

There you have it – retail isn’t dying, it’s just different. Feel free to regurgitate that next time someone waxes lyrical about the gold old days.

Everlane Selfie

Everlane Selfie

Glossier Los Angeles

Glossier Los Angeles

Georgia Tyndale