At the same time that notable online retailers are testing same-day delivery, men's apparel e-tailer Bonobos is building earth-based "Guideshops" that take the bet that shoppers will tolerate a longer wait for a better fit.
"We think service is more important than instant gratification," Bonobos founder Andy Dunn told USA Today.
In its twist on the showrooming trend, Bonobos is hoping its customers will visit its own physical stores if they want to try before they buy online. The company has opened storefronts in Manhattan, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and DC's Georgetown neighborhood, with plans to open five more locations by year-end. Each has only enough space to display a limited range of men's pants, shirts and suits in addition to the fitting room. Customers visit to try on clothes and get outfit advice from the attentive staff. To cut down on crowding in the cramped quarters, shoppers are encouraged to make fitting appointments online first. If there is a wait, associates have beer on hand to serve as a distraction.
Bonobos was originally founded on the principle that men should have the confidence to purchase pants online based on a superior fit to what they were used to getting with The Gap and other rivals. Although fit descriptions mirror that of other brands (slim, boot cut, straight leg, etc.), the company claims pants come with "some magic in the seat to be comfortable but not frumpy," thereby eliminating saggy bottom issues that plague off-the-shelf men's fashions. The site, which now features a broad selection of items, including men's sweaters, shoes and accessories, offers free shipping both ways, a liberal returns policy ("anything, any time, any reason"), and a dedicated "Ninja" customer care staff.
Other successful online merchants have been toying with physical stores, including the hot eyewear dealer, Warby Parker, and Gap's Piperlime with its recent SOHO, New York storefront. It seems that some online retailers want to have it both ways: win customer loyalty through great online-only experiences, but have storefronts handy for those who feel the need for a human touch. Apparently, any strategy or combination of strategies is fair game as long as it keeps customers coming back.
What's the likelihood that online stores will benefit from a physical store presence over the next three to five years?