Reimagining Physical Retail Stores


I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about a new ecommerce venture. Still playing around with a number of ideas, but over the last couple months, I’ve actually spent an equal amount of time thinking about a physical retail store venture. Seems almost quaint in the wake of Marc Andreesen predicting the death of traditional retail and showrooming killing off everyone from Best Buy to Bed Bath & Beyond.

This week, I’ve spent time shopping in Union Square, SF where I visited Bonobos’ Guideshop, Nespresso’s Boutique (conveniently across the street from Bonobos), and Uniqlo’s flagship store.

Bonobos’ Guideshop is a showroom. You set up an appointment with a stylist and figure out what works for you. You can’t actually purchase an item and walk out with it, but your guide will help you purchase it online at the end of your appointment. In this way, you’ll know what works, fits, and feels good and be able to order confidently online in the future. Seems like a smart move for an online only retailer. Bonobos also has ‘stores’ inside Nordstrom and is launching a print catalog. In other words, it’s going in the opposite direction of the ‘traditional’ retailer. And I think it comes down to getting the brand name out there, increasing conversion rate, and increasing LTV.

Nespresso’s Boutique isn’t as overtly a showroom as Bonobos’ Guideshop. While I’m pretty sure it was set up with showrooming in mind, it is, at first glance, a nice cafe in Union Square. Nespresso machines and capsules are all around you and are used to make your drinks, tablets with Nespresso ‘demos’ are available, but no one is pushing a sale beyond a Macchiato and pastry pairing. You can linger just as you would at Starbucks or Peets. Granted, the menu itself is an advertisement for Nespresso’s capsules, bringing the consumer along for a ride from a low intensity Linizio to a powerful Ristretto. Walk downstairs, though, and you can get the full Nespresso experience with a knowledgeable coffee consultant and walk out with a machine, capsules, glasses, etc. You’ve probably seen similar Nespresso Boutiques in your favorite department store. These Boutique experiences are in stark contrast to their online site. Ughh. What a disaster!

Uniqlo is a different animal. If you don’t know Uniqlo, you should. Uniqlo is the 4th largest clothing retailer and plans to be #1 by 2020, when it plans to achieve $50B (yes, that’s BILLION) in sales. Uniqlo offers wide selections of fashionable items at low prices. In the San Francisco store, there’s a hint of technology in the shape of a Magic Mirror, which allows you try on a red jacket and see it in the mirror in all the other available colors. Expect more of this type of technology to permeate Uniqlo and other physical retailers.

Ecommerce is continuing to grow at a nice clip. Tablet commerce has demonstrated high conversion rates. The Vente Privee flash sale model has boomed and continues to do well in many cases. The Groupon daily deal model exploded, but is by no means dead. Personalization/subscription (stuff in a box/trunk) commerce is morphing, but a very popular trend. Social commerce is still talked about, but after 4 years of talk, no one has any idea what it means. And Poshmark, TheFancy, Threadflip, and others are getting traction while Nasty Girl grew to $100M+ in sales in no time…I’ll never understand or get in the way of women and clothes!

All this is to say that ecommerce is an exciting area. But those physical locations on the corner or in a larger entity like Nordstrom offer an opportunity to touch, feel, smell, wear, and experience a product up close and personal. Some people are completely comfortable with the Zappos free return policy. And you see Warby Parker taking advantage of this in the form of its Home Try On program, but even Warby is opening up showrooms. Online customized designer shoe store Shoes of Prey has created a unique in-department store showroom experience that bridges the gap between online and bricks and mortar.

So that’s a little of what’s rattling around in my mind these days. I’m not figuring out how to fight showrooming. That’s a stupid plan. I’m thinking about how to embrace it. Thinking about what a better in-store experience means.

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2 Responses to Reimagining Physical Retail Stores

  1. […] my quest to understand the new face of retail and showrooming, I’m in the Marina checking out the #WPClassTrip. Unfortunately, the city is shutting them […]

  2. […] Reimagining Physical Retail Stores […]

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