In this digital revolution, stores are media
Innovative, digital-first retail concepts are sprouting physical stores as the revolution continues in how consumer goods are brought to market.
In a session at this week’s Shoptalk conference, the founders of three successful, but very different, born-for-the-web retailers shared their formulas for cultivating business models firmly rooted in both digital and physical ground.
Ethan Song, co-founder and CEO of Frank And Oak, a Montreal-based apparel seller, said its 17 physical stores are located in “up and coming, creative neighborhoods” in major cities “coast-to-coast” across Canada. The company serves more than three million mostly-Millennial members via a web site that offers individual items or a subscription service that delivers a personalized box each month.
“We view the store as media,” said Mr. Song. “E-commerce-only misses much valuable data about our customers. It’s smart to feed store data into the rest of your business and use different KPIs to measure success.”
M.Gemi, a “new-luxury” online shoe retailer, operates both permanent and temporary “fit shops” — showrooms, really — that co-founder and CEO Ben Fischman considers points of entry for the brand experience.
“We’re like fast-fashion for footwear,” he said, explaining that the web and mobile sites present limited quantities of a new style each week sourced from craft manufacturers in Italy. Each shoe style may have 30-40 attributes. The style attributes and size assortment for each production run are carefully matched to expected sell-through.
M.Gemi presently operates fixed stores in Manhattan and Boston, as well as a mobile shop, Andiamo, an ice cream truck that it parks outside shopping malls to dispense gelato and offer try-on experiences.
New customers use the fit shops to gauge the product quality and comfort. Purchases are shipped to arrive within 48 hours.
“They improve onboarding of shoppers to our digital platforms,” said Mr. Fischman. “They are also a bit of a Trojan horse for us since they let us gather attribute data.”
Awaytravel.com has attracted a cult following for its stylish roll-aboard luggage. The brand also operates 4 high-end luggage shops in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin that co-founder Jen Rubio envisions as “community hubs.” Each has a unique design.
“We design our stores to be very Instagram-able,” said Ms. Rubio. “For us having a physical store means meeting customers’ short-term needs. It’s not a showroom model. We must carry physical inventory.”
Away recently had a successful experience with a pop-up in a Paris hotel, she added.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is the era of pure digital-only retailing coming to an end? Is it strategically valuable to think of stores as another media channel? Of the physical store approaches discussed in the article, which will flourish best in the new digital era?