You might wonder why successful online retailers, such as Warby Parker and Google, have opened physical stores. Even Amazon plans to open its first New York City bookstore in Manhattan’s Time Warner Center.
At first blush, it may be hard to understand why a company that has been selling directly online―with the advantages of low overhead, centralized or regional inventory centers, and few customer-facing personnel―would enter the world of expensive mall rents, and often low-wage, high turnover employees. But there are some real opportunities of having a physical presence that, for some companies, outweigh the costs.
With certain products, seeing and feeling makes a difference. Eyeglasses are a very personal product and can be challenging to fit. I know this firsthand. I bought a pair online, received them, and had to send them back because they just didn’t work for me. By trying them on in the store, the customer can ensure the fit and the look. And when they pick them up, there are professionals on hand to adjust them. No return shipping to pay or trip to the Post Office.
Luxury linen company Boll and Branch has beautiful photos and language on their website and uses celebrity influencers. But even the most elegant descriptions and images can’t replace the feel of organic, high thread count cotton sheets. So, they recently opened a store in the Mall at Short Hills, NJ. As Boll & Branch co-founder and CEO Scott Tannen said, “A physical store offers a holistic sensory experience that can simply never be replicated online.”
In fact, a 2017 study by Time Trade showed that 85% of consumers prefer to shop in physical stores vs. online. The main reasons: immediacy in sales and product help.
Online influences store shopping
However, it’s important to note the ways that consumers shop in stores has changed. First, consumers often search for products online first before entering a store, and sometimes even while they are in a store. In addition to detailed product information, they can instantly do price comparisons. Of course, things like private-label and unique products help overcome the latter challenge.
Don’t count out the massive brand awareness that comes along with being in a high-traffic mall. Many of these stores are opening in malls, sometimes just testing the water with pop-up stores, Brand Box, for example, offers short-term leases and many tools to help brands succeed in real life. The mall takes on a large part of the responsibility for advertising to get customers to the mall.
Walking through a store and enjoying the aesthetic of products is something that for many people cannot be replaced by website. More often than not, in-store promotions and browsing result in higher purchase sizes. According to a study from the Journal of Consumer Psychology, 89 percent of women and 78 percent of men who visit physical stores shared that they add additional items to their cart beyond their identified needs.
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