As consumers grow increasingly comfortable with online shopping (and boy, are they getting comfortable), the future of brick and mortar retail outlets is getting more and more hazy. Some corners are even suggesting that they will disappear altogether.
Which is why it raised eyebrows when, earlier this year, the successful online-only apparel store Bonobos announced a wild new innovation:selling into Nordstrom’s. On the surface, this may seem like an odd direction for a progressive, online entity, but CEO Andy Dunn provided an insightful explanation:
“We were kidding ourselves thinking the only way to offer this was online—sometimes you want to try and touch and feel it,” Mr. Dunn said. “It was foolish to contain this brand in one channel.”
To further this perspective, Bonobos is also rolling out a series of Guideshops, which provides all the perks of the retail experience without, well, the retail. At these locations, set in key metro cities, shoppers register for a one-on-one (and free) fitting consultation, where they can try on the various products and better understand the sizing, look and feel – before being released to buy it on their own, hopefully over and over (though, there are online order portals in the store).
The theory is, of course, that a service oriented brand experience will go a longer way than a sales oriented one (a theory that is very much in place at the current hallmark of brick and mortar: the Apple Store and its Genius Bar). Consumers crave the personal attention of a brand and the direct connection with a product to ensure it is right for them. Online shopping offers a much more convenient way to purchase items, but the physical product engagement still drives their decision of what to purchase.
As the retail experience continues to evolve into our connected future, it will be the brands – like Bonobos – who don’t overlook the experience portion that will pace the way.