Turning The Tables: Pure E-Tailers Going Offline
Click-before-bricks without launching a fully-fledged offline store is becoming the new thing.
Traditionally, fashion brands and retailers would open brick-and-mortar stores first to build their brands. Now an online presence can give a brand a much wider reach, and serve as a more cost effective option in creating a global flagship. Mary Katrantzou choose to launch her first store online in November 2012, speaking recently at the Decoded Fashion London Summit she told us why:
We thought if it’s going to get us two years to even get remotely close to something that we think is a stage that represents both what the brand is about and also the e-shop, we should probably try [the e-shop] first. And it’s kind of a step towards a brick-and-mortar shop”.
– Mary Katrantzou at Decoded Fashion London
Using a clicks-before-bricks approach may make sense, especially for brands who do not have a large amount of financial backing or a prestigious history to lean on, but all pure e-tailers face the same significant challenges: the inability for their customers to try on product before it gets delivered to their doorstep and the cost of returns on the business.
The most tried solution for the purely online sphere is the use of sizing software, of which the choice is plentiful; Befittd, Bodi.me, Fits.me, Virtusize, Metail and True Fit to name a few (for more on fit technologies check out Decoded Fashion’s Founder, Liz Bacelar talking fit in this month’s WIRED magazine here).
So what’s beyond software and virtual sizing, pure players have found alternative tactics which do not involve opening a fully-functioning brick-and-mortar store, yet create similar added value:
- Showrooming: Allowing customers to try on the merchandise in a showroom, but not actually selling on-site. Bonobos, for instance, have set up so-called Guideshops which customers can visit to try on garments. A crucial advantage of these Guideshops is that they are not as costly as retail stores, yet still allow customers to try on and can be used as a method of brand building and brand communication.
- Parcel Pods: Asos have recently announced the trial launch of their Local Letterbox project, which will ultimately see the installation of 500 staffed changing rooms named ‘Parcel Pods’ across the UK. Customers will be able to order merchandise to these pods and to try on the clothes right then and there, allowing them to immediately return any items that don’t fit correctly. Though this may not sound particularly glamorous, it will certainly save time for Asos’ core 20-somethings.
- Immediate Return: The Russian e-tailer La Moda has also thought up a comfortable solution. When merchandise is delivered to customers, the delivery man (or woman) will also act as a salesperson, letting customers try on the received parcel, giving fashion advice, and taking payment only after they have chosen what to keep (more about this here). The downside? Customers only get 15 minutes to try on, giving a new meaning to the term fast fashion.
Speaking at last month’s Decoded Fashion Summit, Asos’ Daniel Bobroff reinforces the need to adapt quickly to survive the challenges that face both online and offline retail.
“We have to learn to adapt. Nick, our founder and the visionary behind Asos, is very keen to sort of reinforce the fact that we have a startup mentality so that every day is a new challenge. We try to remain restlessly innovative – that’s one of our buzzwords.”
– Daniel Bobroff
With there still being a lot of space for innovation in this area, there has been a growing trend for e-tailers to create an offline presence. King of the spectacle, Warby Parker have thrived under the establishment of a physical store, and MyWardrobe.com announced that they are to open a brick-and-mortar stores. Whether MyWardrobe.com can use this to turn their business around is another question.
Note: I wrote this piece for Decoded Fashion in June.
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