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[April 27, 2014]
Online retailers seek to reach, reassure buyers face-to-face [Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA)]
(Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) CHICAGO - As a first-year law student with job interviews on the horizon, Huy Nguyen was in the market for a well-fitting suit that wouldn't blow his budget.
Online custom suit retailer Indochino enticed Nguyen with the right price and quality, but what ultimately sold him was a Facebook ad offering old-fashioned service: in-person measuring and styling at its "Traveling Tailor" pop-up shop in downtown Chicago.
"I like the in-person contact, having a professional's advice," said Nguyen, 22, who brought three fellow Chicago-Kent College of Law students with him to buy suits at the pop-up shop. "If I measure myself at home, I don't know if I'm doing it correctly." As many traditional retailers scramble to boost their online presence in an age of rapid growth in e-commerce, a growing number of online retailers are investing in bricks-and-mortar shops to put in valuable face time with their customers.
Online menswear brand Bonobos was among the pioneers when it launched its physical Guideshops, offering fit and style advice, in 2011, and later made its apparel available at Nordstrom. Eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, as well as Gap Inc.-owned Athleta and Piperlime, are other digital success stories that have set up offline locations.
Online crafts market Etsy isn't opening its own stores but is developing a wholesale service to help its sellers get their wares into independent boutiques and large retail shops across the world. Etsy Wholesale, which launched in beta a year ago and will launch publicly in August, screens and assists sellers to ensure they are able to produce at the scale necessary to satisfy orders from buyers such as Nordstrom, West Elm and New York boutique Michele Varian.
The trend, which has accelerated during the past year, doesn't suggest a reverse commute from digital to physical as much as the mounting importance of hitting customers from all angles, said Joe Scartz, chief marketing officer for Digital BrandWorks, a Chicago- based consultant helping retailers thrive in a digital world.
Smartphone-wielding customers have come to expect an always-on shopping experience, including the option to walk into a store, Scartz said. And as many traditional stores face down showrooming - that's the practice of checking out the merchandise in-store and then finding the cheapest price online - by offering price-matching alongside the added value of their associates' expertise, online retailers are having to compete on more than price, he said.
"If these online retailers don't compete in an omnichannel way, they will lose ground to the bricks who are able to do this kind of thing," Scartz said.
Though e-commerce is growing fast, up 17 percent last year compared with 3.5 percent growth for bricks-and-mortar stores, it represented just 5.8 percent of the $4.53 trillion in overall retail sales in the U.S. in 2013, according to eMarketer.
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