Amazing to see so many cool online brands give brick-and-mortar a shot. What’s also impressive is how design and experience-oriented these brands are when it comes to creating their retail identity
Two recent openings in my neighborhood:
EVERLANE (28 Prince Street)
This is their first store. It opened last week which is when I should have stopped by because by Saturday the line wrapped around the block.
I’m intrigued by their technology:
- integrated I.D. system
- walletless shopping
- buzzers to alert you when your fitting room is available
- if you are already an online customer all your information is pulled into the store and vice versa
Not all products are available in store – only top sellers.
- denim gets star-billing
- it’s the primary reason they’re going the store route – after categorically stating they would NEVER do brick and mortar.
- the reality: they could not sell jeans online.
They’re also planning in-store events and educational panels.
The store looks gorgeous – and I haven’t even gotten inside yet. The interior design is by Leong Leong.
Per Everlane on Dezeen: “We wanted to create a beautiful space that not only showcased our products, but also allowed our customers to experience our aesthetic in real life so we used plenty of natural materials – wood, granite and greenery throughout the space.”
Read on below for more on Allbirds as well as some questions on how this switch to IRL stores will work out. What is the optimal number of stores for a brand starting out today?
Allbirds (68 Prince Street)
Allbirds is only a year old, but already a big hit in Silicon Valley. The company is a start up founded by a New Zealand former soccer player and has gotten about $10 million in funding (the Warby Parker founders are investors).
The shoes are made from merino wool which supposedly makes them super comfortable. They come in two styles: a runner and a lounger and cost $95.
Even though they are West Coast based, their branding and design work was done by Brooklyn’s Red Antler. And NYC is their biggest market.
The Soho store (they have another in San Francisco) is an extended pop up, they refer to it as a concept store. It will be open thru April.
The store itself is cool with an unusual concept for trying on shoes.
- Customers sit at a counter manned by the sales staff (photo below).
- I am particularly partial to the life-size hamster wheel where customers can test-run the shoes. Which one shopper kindly did for me.
Now comes the most critical question.
We know that America is over-stored (this year 6700 stores will be closing). However, many of the most successful pure play e-commerce brands are opening IRL stores to give customers an opportunity to interact with the brand and actually try out the products.
In the old days (2000’s), a hot brand would strive to open 1600 stores.
- What do we think is the right number for today? For example, I just read that Warby Parker is about to open their 50th (and largest) store in Los Angeles.
- A lot depends on the product and frequency of purchase e.g. a mattress vs eyewear vs cosmetics vs. coffee vs. groceries.
- The big difference between now and then: in the past, opening a store was all about opportunity, there was virtually no downside because there was no alternative to brick and mortar. Now, besides online purchases, many products are streamed or downloaded so a store is often not the first place that comes to mind when shopping.
- Getting into retail is a far riskier proposition today and founders are justifiably concerned about being overly aggressive.