Drew Green is Chief Executive Officer of Indochino, the world’s largest made to measure men’s apparel company.
Without a doubt, ecommerce is a huge force in today’s retail landscape.
With consumers spending billions of dollars every year in North America, people are shopping online, and shopping a lot. Many online brands are now looking to evolve their relationship with their customers by opening retail locations in key markets that offer shoppers convenient and curated retail experiences right where they live. This clicks-to-bricks phenomenon has been pioneered by successful online consumer brands like Warby Parker, Bonobos, Indochino, and now, even Amazon is getting in the omni-channel game.
This month, Indochino opened its eighth showroom—the first of several planned additions for 2016. It’s been less than two years since we opened our first showroom, and currently our retail stores make up almost 50 per cent of the business. The decision to become an omni-channel brand was clearly right for us.
Pivoting the business model was not a move we made made lightly, however. Before opening the doors of our first showroom in Toronto in August 2014, we spent three years trialling the Indochino retail experience in 18 different North American cities through a series of pop-ups called Traveling Tailor.
If you think opening retail outlets is the right choice for your online brand, before you throw a dart at the map to choose a location, I recommend experimenting with a series of short-term, low-commitment pop-up shops. The lessons we learned, and the insights we gained through Traveling Tailor proved invaluable to the business as we transitioned from online to omni-channel, and these same benefits can be realized by any brand following on the same path.
Testing the Waters
Pop-ups are relatively easy and quick to initiate and, with a little planning, make it possible to test several potential markets in a short period of time.
Our Traveling Tailor events brought Indochino to customers all over North America, from Vancouver to Orlando, and the response we encountered in these cities deeply informed our planning when we began looking into permanent retail locations.
Serving it Right
People shop differently in person versus online. Pop-ups will teach you a lot about what customers want to see from you in a brick and mortar environment—how they interact with your product, which methods of display are more effective, even what kind of things are important for your retail staff to communicate.
Online shopping is inherently solitary and we presumed that men would also shop alone. In fact, we discovered that when shopping for suits, men often bring somebody with them or shop in groups. This revelation inspired us to change many aspects of our retail format, from the appointment process itself to the seating arrangements in the showroom, to accommodate our customers’ preferred way to shop.
Getting to know your customer through short-term, pop-up interactions will help you effectively and successfully translate the online experience into a physical environment.
Building a Better Brand
Pure ecommerce brands rarely, if ever, come face to face with their customers. This means there may be customer pain points that remain invisible to the online retailer. Pop-ups bring you and your customer together to open an entirely new channel of communication.
What you hear from your customers in-store will allow you to adjust and improve your online products and services, ensuring that, once you are ready to move to bricks and mortar, you’ll offer a seamless omni-channel experience.
The here-now-gone-tomorrow quality of pop-ups provides a great opportunity to generate buzz about your brand. Customers who already shop with you online will jump at the chance to experience your brand in person (and introduce you to their friends). Additionally, a storefront presence on the right street will attract new shoppers who, once converted by your unique retail experience, will become local brand advocates and, ultimately, online customers.
The brand awareness we developed through pop-ups was incredibly strong. Even now, more than two years since the last event, we regularly hear from guys on social media asking when we’ll bring Traveling Tailor back to their city so they can shop with us again.
Don’t be afraid to move into retail. Initially we were concerned that a retail presence could cannibalize our online business, but instead we were surprised to see our online sales grow up to seven times faster in our showroom markets than anywhere else.
Consumers themselves are omni-channel—interacting with brands and shopping both online and offline. It’s become very apparent that brands who meet consumers whenever and wherever they want have greater overall success. Pop-up shops are the ultimate testing grounds for online brands ready to start the journey to bricks and mortar. Practice makes perfect, right?
With pop-up shops you can trial locations, retail formats, merchandising, customer service processes, and more, perfecting your approach before diving into the deep end of retail.