Showrooms, pop-ups and mobile trucks followed, all with success.
In response, Warby Parker opened its first permanent store in New
York's SoHo neighborhood last month. Boston opened May 17, with
more stores planned over the next year. "As awesome as the internet
is, somebody can experience a brand in a physical setting in a way
that no digital experience can replicate," said Mr. Blumenthal. "In
five years when people use the term "retail,' it'll mean both
physical and e-commerce. The phrase "e-commerce' won't even be used
Warby Parker isn't the only previously pure-play e-commerce
retailer to establish permanent physical stores. In September 2012,
Gap-owned Piperlime opened a
shop in SoHo, where it offers an edited sample of the
contemporary-priced clothing and shoes sold on the site. Bonobos' Guide Shops, on the other
hand, hold no inventory. Instead, they serve as a showroom, where a
man can go and try on the brand's shirts, pants and other products.
If he purchases something, the store places the order, and it's
shipped from warehouse to his home.
"It's a better experience for our customer," said Bonobos Chief
Financial Officer Bryan Wolff. "Guys want to be more efficient
about their shopping -- they don't need to take home the bag that
Even daily-deals player Living Social has a store in Washington.
It serves as a space for the company's top local merchants to hold
events, such as self-defense classes and cheese tastings.
Though they result in more overhead cost, stores can be worth
it. Both Warby Parker and Bonobos say the customer who makes his
first purchase in-store typically makes a second purchase, and
usually online. Mr. Wolff put it this way: "Eighty-five percent of
people still like to purchase offline."
Bauble Bar, the online jewelry store co-founded by Daniella
Yacobovsky and Amy Jain in January 2011, plans to continue with
old-hat pop-up shops for now. "If we can get people touching and
feeling our product, it's a huge win for us," said Ms. Yacobovsky.
"But we're a startup in the classic sense, and we're
resource-restrained. We're still figuring out what the right
formula is for us offline, so we're going to try to gather as much
data and do as much testing as possible before committing."