Running an Online-Only Fashion Store: Why It Pays To Also Have a Physical Presence?
What is the biggest distinction between online and offline selling? It’s Physical touch. When you’re selling your products from a physical showroom, your customers can touch your products, try them on before buying them; however, in online selling, your customers can touch or try the products only after they have bought it. It’s easy to guess which one your customers find more fulfilling – they are happier when they buy from a physical showroom.
So any and every Fashion Retailer out there dream of having a big physical presence on high streets of fashion. Conventional Wisdom says that success of your brand’s physical retail depends a lot on its location. But then looking at the real estate prices, buying or renting spaces at good locations of a city is far beyond reach for startups or small to medium-sized brands.
That’s why smaller retailers start with an e-commerce store. It doesn’t require as much investment as you would to open up a physical store.
But is it really a matter of choice between online or bricks-and-mortar, like it’s either black or white. Not really. Why can’t your Fashion Brand be a happy marriage between an online and offline experience?
There are retailers out there like Warby Parker who started with both – their e-commerce business and physical store, right from their apartment. They were selling their eyewear online from their website but they were also letting their customers visit their apartment to touch and try their products before they place an order on their website to buy it.
“ Although we created Warby Parker as a brand to be predominately sold online, we quickly learned that customers wanted physical contact. In the first month, we sold out of our top 15 frames and needed to temporarily suspend our home try-on program. While we were still full-time students, customers would call us at our apartment in Philadelphia and ask if they could come over to try on frames at our “office.” At first, we thought this would be a sub-optimal experience. We’d lay out our collection on the dining room table and customers would walk into an apartment with no idea what to expect. But, something magical happened. We built close personal relationships with our customers. How often do customers get to meet the people behind the brand? Hundreds of people came to our Philly apartment. When we graduated and moved to New York, we set up our office on the sixth floor of a building near Union Square. It wasn’t a shop, per se, but on our website, we said people could book appointments to come by to try on frames. From the beginning, there was a four-week wait for an appointment, and pretty soon we were selling close to one thousand pairs of glasses per month from our office.”
Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa are Co-CEOs and Co-Founders of Warby Parker [source]
So apart from the fact that Warby Parker has a compelling product and they’re using a lot of technology; their strategy to offer physical touch points to their customers since day one has played a vital role in establishing them as a successful Fashion Brand.
Your customers want to physically interact with your products before they buy. So instead of just being an e-commerce only brand, you should look for every opportunity to have your brand’s presence in bricks-and-mortar as well, early rather than at the later stage of your business.
If you don’t have the money to invest in opening-up a flagship showroom of your brand in a prime location, there are other more economical ways of giving your brand a physical touch point.
Either you can invite your customers to your apartment like the founders of Warby Parker did to let them experience their products. Or if you don’t like seeing a lot of people in your house, you can also partner with boutiques in various cities. You can rent a small display inside their showroom to display your products to their daily walk-in customers. Now, this doesn’t require a lot of investment.
If you decide to let the boutique owner also sell your products, you can obviously pay them a commission, or else if you want to keep it simple, you can make a clear note on the display that the products are also sold online on your website.
Having a retail presence at the start-up level makes sense because it gives your brand physical touch points, where people can go and experience your products. Plus it allows you to meet customers face to face and build close relationships. Your learning curve on what your customers want becomes a lot shorter if your brand also has a physical presence. It will give you a practical experience that will help you innovate and create the best customer experience possible.
Apart from the learning benefits, by having a physical presence, you exponentially increase the reach of your customers and drive more traffic to your website. If your customers see your product on a display and they know it’s also sold on your website, it makes your products more accessible and also urges them to know more about the brand and visit your website. You should make sure that you do an exceptional job with your product displays in these boutiques.
So if you’re a Start-up Fashion brand, don’t settle with just an e-commerce presence. Keep looking out for ways to give your brand a physical presence. Talk to boutiques in the top locations of your city to rent out small or medium displays for your brand.
Please note that I am not saying there is anything wrong with having an e-commerce only Fashion brand; there are plenty of e-commerce only brands out there that are successful without any physical presence. However, as your brand grows, one day you will reach a point when you feel the need for your brand to have a physical presence. So why not today? Maybe your brand needs more exposure today than tomorrow.
I am the Founder at ILoveFashionRetail, where we design & develop e-commerce websites & mobile apps for fashion retailers. We also help fashion brands grow their online sales & traffic. My essays are featured at Forbes, Moz, Fairchild, FIT and more. Contact me.