In-Home Trials and Multistage Shopping: Rethinking How Millennials Buy
Brick-and-mortar stores have been struggling over the past decade, so much so that Credit Suisse estimated 8,600 shops would close last year in the United States and a quarter of malls will close in the next five years. Despite these numbers, though, things aren’t quite as dire they seem. While purchasing may be migrating online, stores continue to play a significant role in what people buy.
Rethinking How Millennials Buy
Led by millennials, in-store purchasing is giving way to multistage shopping and the rise of in-home trials.
Home as a Fitting Room
When consumers shop online, they have the full marketplace at their fingertips. What they don’t have are the products themselves — or the personal touch offered by sales reps. This is something online businesses have never fully mastered until now.
Embracing the home as a fitting room or shop floor, companies today are finding a way to bridge the gap between in-store experiences and the growing prevalence of online shopping. That means shipping products for a “try before you buy” approach to purchasing that’s likely to become more important as physical stores close.
No Closing Pressure
In addition to building on the multistage shopping model embraced by millennials, in which they browse and try products in-store and then buy online, at-home product trials help take the pressure off of decision making, which is one reason this new approach is so popular. Instead of trying to side-step trial close questions regarding a product they aren’t sure about, at-home tests put the power back in the buyer’s hands.
Glasses, Mattresses and More
The list of things you can now try before you buy through online shopping sites has grown rapidly lately. One of the forerunners of this field was Warby Parker, an eyeglasses retailer that will send out five pre-selected frames for free to try on at home. You test them out, select what you like, and send back the others, paying only for what you want to buy. And with Warby Parker's new app, individuals between 18 and 40 can even skip the eye doctor and check their prescription at home.
Home trials aren’t just an American or Western purchasing model. CaratLane, an Indian jewelry company, will send jewelry and a consultant to you, at home, at work, anywhere you want, with no obligation to buy. This lets the buyer test out jewelry looks with different outfits without having to go to the store. All a CaratLane user has to do is book a trial online. Furthermore, CaratLane is reintroducing the salesperson with this model, offering that added personal touch.
If any company dominates the online marketplace, it’s Amazon.com. Therefore, of course, the e-commerce giant needs to get in on the home-trial game. And its starting point? Amazon Prime Wardrobe.
Amazon has lagged behind on clothing sales, most likely because people like to try on clothes, feel the texture, and see how they hang before they buy them. By shipping items for free both ways and offering a discount on purchases of three or more items, Amazon could break through existing barriers to apparel sales and best clothing startups that lack the name recognition.
Though clothing and accessories dominate the “try before you buy” marketplace, other companies are slowly encroaching on the niche. The mattress startup Eve will let buyers sleep on a mattress for 100 days before buying, while tech-focused Lumoid lets you try, rent, buy or finance cameras, wearables or even drones.
Will the rise of “try before you buy” models accelerate the end of the physical store? Though some shops will continue to hold down the fort in the community, in-home trials could be just the thing to tip the scales.
Anna Johansson is a freelance writer who specializes in social media and business development.
Related story: Experiential Retail: 6 Changes You Can Make to Your Company