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Getting Physical


The emphasis on omnichannel commerce has largely laid to rest (at least for now) the debate of online versus offline. Indeed, A.T. Kearney put it best in the title of a recent study, “On Solid Ground: Brick and Mortar is the Foundation of Omnichannel Retailing.”

Whether a space used for showrooming, webrooming, a pick up and return venue for online orders or plain old shopping, the physical store plays a crucial role in the shopper’s journey. And as A.T. Kearney noted in its study: It’s been proven that having multiple channels is good for business.”

That idea has been taken to heart by savvy pure-play online retailers who, increasingly, are adding to their virtual stake by experimenting with — and, in some cases, growing — an offline presence. Here is an update on retailers who have made the plunge:


The online activewear and accessories brand, co-founded by actress Kate Hudson and owned by JustFab Inc., is positioned in the fast-growing “athleisure” market.

Launched in 2013, Fabletics at press time was making its brick-and-mortar debut, at Bridgewater Commons, Bridgewater New Jersey, and The Mall in Columbia, Columbia, Maryland. Another three stores are in the works, at Christiana Mall, Wilmington, Delaware; Saint Louis Galleria, St. Louis; and Kenwood Towne Centre, Cincinnati. (All the locations are in malls owed by General Growth Properties,

“More and more, we are seeing pure-play retailers like Fabletics see the value of adding physical locations to enhance sales and brand visibility,” stated Alan Barocas, senior executive VP of leasing, GGP. “In fact, 90 percent of all U.S. retail sales occur at physical stores, and when a pure-play retailer opens a physical store, they see online sales increase three to five times in the same trade area.”

Fabletics’s physical outposts are designed to blend online and offline components, offering extensive assortment, mobile point-of-sale, free shipping for out-of-stock items, and buy online and pick-up in store (BOPUS).

In addition, shoppers can access a virtual shopping cart while in the stores so that they can complete purchases online after their store visit. And they can also can use the brand’s online site to book in-store fittings.

Blue Nile

In opening its first freestanding physical space, fine jewelry and diamond retailer Blue Nile opted to take a showroom (or what the company calls “Webroom”) strategy.

The 325-sq.-ft. store, at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, New York, is intended to give shoppers the opportunity to see and experience the company’s products in person — before purchasing the items online. More than 400 styles are featured on site. Associates use iPads to show customers Blue Nile’s complete assortment and assist them with their selection.

Merchandise can be picked up at the store, which also provides free cleanings and repair.

“Blue Nile’s customers already have the freedom to shop in their own way – via PC, tablet, and phone – and now in the New York-area, they can do so in a physical environment,” a Blue Nile spokesperson told Chain Store Age. “However, unlike at most traditional jewelers, consumers will have the advantage of online prices, non-commissioned advice, a huge selection, and great quality.”

Blue Nile hired a leading retail design firm — Southfield, Michigan-based JGA — to design the space, which has an inviting, contemporary look. High-tech flourishes, including an illuminated back wall, are balanced by warm and evocative graphics and black and white photography.


Launched in 2011 and the brainchild of two former investment bankers with Harvard MBAs, the fast-fashion jewelry brand has opened its first permanent brick-and-mortar location, a 1,200-sq.-ft. shop at Roosevelt Field Mall, in Garden City, New York.

BaubleBar, known for its on-trend but affordable jewelry, has previously tested the waters of offline retail with pop-up shops. It also sells a limited selection of goods at Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Anthropologie stores.

The new BaubleBar shop is colorful and stylish, and stocked with a wide array of trinkets. It features a “selfie station” where customers can take photos of themselves bejeweled and a statement wall to encourage layering. Similar to the retailer’s online store, the product offering up updated frequently based on real-time shopping data.


The five-year-old online beauty subscription retailer is plunging deeper into brick-and-mortar retailing, and has made clear that expanding its offline footprint is a strategic priority for the next phase of the business. With one physical store (a two-level beauty lifestyle emporium in Manhattan’s SoHo, opened in 2014), Birchbox plans to open two additional permanent stores in 2016, including one dedicated to men’s products under the banner of Birchbox Man. And this past summer, it tested in-store beauty counters in select Gap stores.

In a novel twist, Birchbox will decide where to locate its two new stores by crowdsourcing customer votes for where to place pop-ups in three U.S. cities. The two best-performing pop-ups will get the permanent physical stores.

“We're obsessed with our subscribers and they're constantly asking for Birchbox to come to their cities, so we're listening and letting them guide the next phase of our offline retail strategy," said Katia Beauchamp, cofounder and CEO of Birchbox. "Our offline customers have a higher lifetime value with us online, so for us, this isn't just another cute pop-up — it's a serious step towards further retail expansion and a way for us to test the waters in new markets."

Sole Society

Women’s footwear and accessories online retailer Sole Society chose Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica. California, to make its brick-and-mortar debut. Known for its on-trend styles and affordable prices, the brand is showcasing its full product line of footwear, handbags, jewelry, scarves and hats in the 2,250-sq.-ft. space.

The store, which has a streamlined interior, combines offline elements with digital ones, and has an in-store kiosk that acts as a virtual concierge — offering customers the option to send gifts or mail their purchases home when traveling. It also gives customers the ability to search Sole Society's full assortment and inventory, shop for sold out styles or sizes and have their purchases delivered within 24-48 hours in the Southern California area.

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