Is Bonobos paving the way for e-commerce showrooms?

Jul 08, 2014

Clearly a fan of showrooming as long as it leads to their own website, Bonobos Inc. has announced plans to have 40 "Guideshops" open nationwide by 2016.

The Manhattan-based men’s clothing specialist currently operates 10 Guideshops. These shops allow customers to try on Bonobos merchandise and make assisted purchases online while in the location. Each shop has only enough space to display a limited range of men’s pants, shirts and suits in addition to the fitting room and the promise of one-on-one attentive service. With serving as a virtual stockroom, investment in real estate for these "e-commerce stores" is minimal, with locations ranging up to 1,500 square feet.

The seven-year old e-tailer first began opening Guideshops in 2011.

"We said we would never be offline, and then, wait a second," Andy Dunn, the co-founder and chief executive of Bonobos, told The New York Times. "We hit a big turning point. We realized offline really works."

Since the Guideshops opened, Bonobos has cut online marketing expenses in half as in-store purchases have increased. "Customer reaction to the model has been overwhelming," said Mr. Dunn in a statement. Suits sell at twice the rate at the Guideshops as online and dress shirts at a 50 percent higher clip.

"Customers are loving the look, feel and fit of our suits and dress shirts, and Guideshops have removed the friction of buying them over the web," said Dwight Fenton, VP of design at Bonobos, in a statement.

The news of the ramped-up expansion came as Bonobos secured another round of financing, bringing the firm’s total funding to $128 million. In February,, the company’s first women’s brand, was launched.

Other e-commerce players that have recently opened stores that to varying degrees act like e-commerce showrooms include Birchbox, Warby Parker, Piperlime, Indochino and Harry’s.

Are the benefits of operating physical locations for e-tailers beginning to outweigh the drawbacks? Will e-commerce showrooms like Bonobos become increasingly common in the years ahead?

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14 Comments on "Is Bonobos paving the way for e-commerce showrooms?"

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Richard J. George, Ph.D.

I believe this is a significant opportunity for online retailers. Brick-and-mortar retailers currently have one advantage over online-only, namely providing a sensory experience. If online adds offline, then the retailer can provide the best of both worlds—a sensory experience and online convenience.

In addition, showrooms, or physical space retail options, provide the online retailer with an opportunity to maximize these assets by offering the showrooms as click and collect points. The customer has maximum convenience and the retailer has a customer visiting the showroom for pickup but also to browse/purchase other merchandise in an inviting atmosphere.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

Bonobos is riding the wave of Omni-channel consumers who shop any time and everywhere. The current statistics indicate that the consumers webroom (shop online and purchase in store) as much as showroom.

For personal items, particularly apparel, consumers want to touch the fabric and try things on for size. Hointer jeans store is another variation of a store model that allows consumers to see jeans literally hanging from the ceiling so they can shop by phone app.

The key to Omni-channel offline store strategy is to keep the stores very small and efficient. Bonobos stores only range in size up to 1500 square feet. There needs to be enough product on display to enable consumers to sample styles and quality, but the profit comes from fulfilling through the “endless aisle” made possible by online supply and distribution.

Mohamed Amer

Going from pure digital presence to a physical entails risk along cost, systems and store labor. Bonobos’ venture in Guideshops is clever as it builds on their established online brand and product quality without traditional investment in real estate and inventory. The doubling of suit sales via Guideshop speaks to the value of a hands-on, tailor-to-fit needs of some products that are best “suited” to the physical world.

Bonobos discovered that their business can grow faster with two parts online and one part brick-and-mortar. The future is a hybrid one, each retailer will find the right mix to leverage existing assets as they keep up with consumers’ purchase behavior.

Jason Goldberg

There are numerous advantages to operating retail stores, if you can do it well. This quarter we’ve seen amazing data that shows how much Best Buy and Walmart have been able to reduce their shipping costs and increase their speed of delivery by using stores as fulfillment centers.

In the case of Bonobos the stores are pure showrooms (no live inventory for sale), which we’re seeing become increasingly popular (Bonobos, TrunkClub, Warby Parker, Google, etc.)

Not only do the Guideshops give Bonobos a personal connection with its customers and allow them to deliver a level of service that would be difficult to do digitally (fitment, etc.) but the brick and mortar locations also serve as powerful marketing vehicles for the website. It’s not uncommon to see digital traffic go up 10 time from geography after a business owns a showroom or flagship retail store in that geography.

Ryan Mathews

One last time: there are no such things as channels. There is only a buyer, a seller and a path toward transaction.

As far as the question literally goes, what drawbacks? eBay has proved kiosks help its business. Amazon used to deliver to 7-Eleven stores in Tokyo. Click and pick retailers have demonstrated the advantages of multiple distribution venues. So, what’s the downside as long as there is no over-investment in physical facilities?

As to the second question, of course they will, provided they continue to represent a value to the consumer.

Kelly Tackett

It really is a question of execution. I’ve been to a Bonobos Guideshop, and the in-store experience definitely lives up to the online experience in terms of customer service. The service feels concierge level, and the store design and display embody the brand image. There is no disconnect between online and offline. It’s easy to imagine that given the limited investment in the store (because of small size and limited inventory) the showrooms are very profitable.

I’ve also been to another pure play store, and it was very obvious that the retailer was unable to translate the online experience in an offline environment. The retailer missed on basics like having adequate staffing during peak shopping periods. The experience was so frustrating that it diminished my willingness to shop from the online store.

gary ambrosino
gary ambrosino
3 years 3 months ago
This is the beginning of a very large trend in the shift of customer experience to guided shopping. Last year my company scheduled 54 million walk-in shopping appointments for major retailers and brands in the U.S. and U.K.—most of these visits were for pre-arranged personal shopping. We found by measuring the big data metrics that came out of these visits that people were less concerned about carry-away availability or price, both of which are considered equivalent for online and in-store purchases now that retailers have stepped up with immediate ship-to-home and price matching. We also measured the efficacy and purpose of these visits and found the majority of shoppers want emotional validation for the purchase choices they zeroed-in on through the online presence, but wanted to see, feel and touch the merchandise and hear from a sales person that it was the “right choice.” 88 percent of shoppers polled felt this way. So what shoppers want is a showroom with the right person to get help from. They are happy if the product arrives at their house the next day. They expect to get competitive (level) pricing with online. What they really want is the human touch, and the data… Read more »
Gene Detroyer

To quote a famous BrainTrustee, again: “There are no such things as channels. There is only a buyer, a seller and a path toward transaction.”

In the long run, the issue isn’t about e-tailers. It is about retailers. If there was never a brick-and-mortar store, but retailing started with the online concept and one imagined opening a geographical location to serve their customers better, wouldn’t this be the model? Small space, limited inventory; focus on the customer and drive them to the website. If using the brick-and-mortar environment captures a customer that will be forever ordering online, isn’t that a win? NO! Its a HUGE win!

The real question is, “why isn’t every brick-and-mortar retailer seeing this?” It would massively improve the bottom line, massively improve turns, massively improve ROI and greatly simplify management of the company.

Ed Dennis
Ed Dennis
3 years 3 months ago

Ever bought a custom-made suit from Hong Kong? Same concept except you pay someone else to do the measuring. Nothing really new here, just a way of using the internet to make the process a little quicker.

Roger Saunders

Bonobos’ lesson, for themselves and others, is to “listen to and follow the consumer.” The results can be inspiring.

The annual Prosper Media Behaviors & Influence Study of 15,000-plus consumers points to the fact that consumers are capable of making use of a variety of media forms to help their research process. The use of those media forms vary by category. For example, 49.3 percent of adults 18-and-over use in-store for researching apparel products. The in-store figure drops to 32.7 percent for appliances, 26.4 percent for beauty care, and 30.3 percent for home improvement items.

Those same consumers say that the apparel research tools they also use are: online via laptop/desktop (39 percent), ad circulars (20.1 percent), and mobile devices (14.1 percent).

Retailers have to be certain they can execute on each of the media forms before they make the shifts that Bonobos is undertaking. The important news is that smart people can figure out and build systems to operate from diverse platforms, online and offline. There never has been, nor will there ever be, just ONE way in which to engage the consumer.

Herb Sorensen

Walmart, already a large e-tailer, is seriously leveraging its show rooming capabilities while making deliveries at its bricks stores.

The Convergence of online, mobile and brick-and-mortar (COMB) retail that I have been speaking about for several years is well under way. And NO, it is not about how brick-and-mortar stores can operate an online unit, or online stores can operate brick-and-mortar units. That type of thinking is SO backward-looking.

The SHOPPER is one person, and cares not a fig for artificial distinctions that define the worlds of business people, each business having its own world. The shopper has only ONE world, and it has long included both brick-and-mortar and online. The younger generation is much taken with their online being mobile, but a minor share of shopping is and will be transacted by mobile.

I have become increasingly skeptical of mobile, and will be until it is wearable. Meanwhile, those who need to survive and thrive in today’s world need to stop thinking about how to thrive in the brick-and-mortar world as distinct from how to thrive in the online world. If you are not converging the two, you are well behind the leaders.

Marge Laney
3 years 3 months ago

According to “It is no secret that an online retailer has to make a sale twice—once when the customer orders the item, and again when the customer opens the package.” Which translates to more than 70% of garments purchased online being returned due to fit issues.

While over 80% of shoppers webroom and choose the retailer they would like to visit, they still make the 99% of their apparel purchases offline. Bonobos has figured out that while shopping for apparel online may appear convenient, the reality is that fit issues and returns have a cost.

Bonobos has realized that the fitting room is the most important square footage in an apparel retail store and is focusing their offline experience on it. Smart.

Craig Sundstrom

Clothing, obviously, is the type of personalized item that is most risky to buy online, particularly when you’re unfamiliar with the fit, style, etc. of the vendor (ah for the good ole days when companies made their own products, and quality didn’t change with each order!). So for this type of e-business, showrooms make a lot of sense, and I expect we’ll see more of them; for motor oil or pet food or music, not so much.

Phil Rubin
3 years 3 months ago

Bonobos is more than an e-tailer, and its growth though multiple channels, both its own and through retailers such as Nordstrom, underscores that retail is not an either/or proposition. Of course Amazon is the prime exception, but even Amazon is continuing to evolve its brick-and-mortar strategy, even without true “stores.”


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