Innovative Attempts to Unite E-Commerce and Brick-and-Mortar
Commentators have greatly debated the longevity of the brick-and-mortar retail environment. Of course, no one’s going so far as to predict the demise of in-store shopping altogether, but against the convenience and affordability of e-commerce, it seems reasonable to believe that physical retail might continue to decline. Interestingly though, some of the more well-established e-commerce brands are breathing new life into the brick-and-mortar environment they’re supposedly killing off. The results are surprisingly effective examples of innovation at its best.
E-Commerce Brands Step Into Physical Retail
Although Amazon.com is best known as an e-commerce giant, the company surprised everyone in late 2015 by opening a brick-and-mortar bookstore in the company’s hometown of Seattle. Amazon has since opened an additional location in San Diego, with more outlets in the works.
According to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the introduction of the brick-and-mortar outlets isn't necessarily intended to be a major revenue driver. Instead, moving into brick-and-mortar allows the company to interface directly with customers to market the company’s proprietary digital products while also creating brand equity. Amazon isn’t alone in making the jump from online to physical retail. Upscale cosmetics company Birchbox and eyeglass seller Warby Parker also moved from online to brick-and-mortar in the last few years after realizing the widespread demand for such service.
Blending the Online and In-Store Experience
Other brands took similar steps, but adapted the hybrid strategy in innovative new ways. Menswear company Bonobos, for example, introduced its “guideshop” concept back in 2015. Each store features one of each item in every size, allowing shoppers to try on the merchandise. When a style and fit is determined, the shopper finalizes the order online. As of fall 2016, there were nearly 30 Bonobos guideshops in the U.S., with more on the way.
In contrast, British retail giant Tesco found success in the Asian market by infusing online elements into its brick-and-mortar operations. To better serve busy South Korean consumers, Tesco introduced virtual stores into Seoul subway stations in 2011. These stores feature images of different products lining the walls, along with a QR code for each item. Shoppers can simply scan the QR code and check out via their phone, and the products they selected will be shipped directly to their home.
Giving Consumers More Choices
Ultimately, all of this cross-channel experimentation boils down to one central goal — to give consumers the broadest range of options possible. Whether it’s grocery shopping during the morning commute or buying digital products from a human salesperson, breaking down the boundaries between online and in-store retail ultimately benefits all parties involved.
Customers enjoy the freedom to shop anywhere at their leisure with a personalized, seamless approach, while retailers see greater exposure and build their brand equity — which is more valuable now than ever before.
It seems that, despite all of the tough talk about e-commerce killing off physical retail, the real determining factor in whether a brand thrives in the new environment is how well it can adapt. It’s likely not a matter of physical vs. digital retail, but rather one of adapting to a multichannel environment or being left behind. As these innovative brands have shown, in today’s technologically adept society, there's no limit to commerce creativity.
Monica Eaton-Cardone is an international entrepreneur who excels at e-commerce retention and product development. She currently serves as COO of Chargebacks911, a chargeback management service provider.