For a growing number of Internet retailers, offline is the new online.
Across the country, retailers that existed only in cyberspace are now opening _ or thinking of opening _ traditional stores at a time when e-commerce’s explosive growth has spawned a slew of dire predictions that brick-and-mortar retailing will become irrelevant or even extinct.
Online giant Amazon is actively exploring a store concept. Specialty retailers like Warby Parker, which sells eyeware, and Bonobos, a men’s clothing company, already operate stores.
Moving from websites to storefronts may seem counterintuitive, as online retailers enjoy lower costs than brick-and-mortar chains like Best Buy and Target, which have to pay store leases and hire salespeople. Plus, more and more shoppers are buying products online, using their laptops, smartphones or tablets.
For the first three months of 2013, e-commerce sales jumped 13 percent to $50.2 billion compared to the same period a year, according to comScore. The double-digit growth in online sales has often come at the expense of physical retailers, which is why companies such as Best Buy and Target are spending millions of dollars to upgrade their websites and mobile software.
But today’s retailer will gladly record a sale any way they can get it, said Jeff Green, a Phoenix-based retail consultant.
“It is strange to see e-commerce sites open physical stores,” Green said. “But when you think about, it’s not surprising. The most successful retailers are going to have a combination of bricks-and-mortars and digital sales. For online retailers, you might as well get to the sale as close as you can.”
Bricks-and-mortar retailing may seem outdated, but the physical store still offers a credible and safe place for customers to examine the product, ask questions, buy and, if necessary, return it.
“It’s about taking the risk out of buying,” said Steven Dennis, a retail consultant and a former top executive with Neiman Marcus and Sears. That’s especially true of certain products like clothing, shoes, handbags and eyeglasses, where consumers still prefer real store interaction vs. a purely digital experience.