E-Commerce, With Bricks and Mortar, Too

via New York Times

After years of eschewing bricks-and-mortar locations as old-fashioned, suddenly e-commerce zealots are finding out something simple: customers really, really like to try on clothes.

Companies like Bonobos, Warby Parker, Piperlime and even eBay and Etsy are opening physical locations. The stores help the companies market themselves, and turn shopping into a social occasion in a way that adding something to an online shopping cart is not. But most of all, executives at the stores say, people want to touch and feel their merchandise.

“We were hearing, more and more, I want to try this on before I buy it,” said Andy Dunn, chief executive and co-founder of the men’s apparel brand Bonobos, which was online-only until this year. Though Bonobos encouraged men to order multiple sizes, “we were telling a lie: the lie was, we want to offer this better customer service in menswear, but we’re not offering people the chance to try stuff on in person,” he said.

Bonobos has opened six stores this year. In one of them, in New York City’s Flatiron district, the bright pants and patterned shirts that Bonobos is known for are laid out neatly on tables, with croquet mallets, a basketball, leather chairs and a briefcase dotting the showroom.

But as Bonobos and other companies open these stores, they are turning retail maxims on their head.

Take the “location, location, location” one. Bonobos’ Flatiron store is on the fifth floor of an office building, wedged into the front of the company’s office. As a customer tried on suits recently, a neighboring conference room full of salespeople erupted into cheers at some business success.

However, Mr. Dunn said, “You don’t need to be expensive, large, street-level.”

“We’re not very well equipped to have 30 shoppers at once,” Mr. Dunn said. “What we don’t want is the corner of 42nd and Fifth.”

Bonobos takes appointments, and, after customers try on clothes, uses its e-commerce distribution centers to fulfill the orders — so it doesn’t need lots of salespeople or a huge back room stocked with inventory.

Dax Dasilva, chief executive of LightSpeed, a software company that works on in-store shopping systems, said online retailers are increasingly try to figure out how to open stores, and how to make those stores up-to-date. Some are getting rid of checkout lanes and registers altogether in favor of roaming clerks equipped with mobile devices, for instance.

“You don’t want to lose all the things people love about e-commerce,” he said.

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