If the future of retail is online, then why are so many e-commerce businesses making their way onto Main Street? Retail giants like Amazon, Bonobos, and Warby Parker have all been opening brick-and-mortar stores to forge the types of intimate customer relationships that mom-and-pop shops have long enjoyed. The shift toward local also gives digital-first businesses a way to expand the omni-channel shopping experience to their customers.
While most attention has been focused on how the biggest e-commerce retailers are creating a local presence — Amazon made headlines around the world when it announced plans to open brick-and-mortar grocery stores earlier this month — new technology platforms are making it possible for online retailers of all sizes to get in on the action. In other cases, technology is taking a back seat as e-commerce businesses form old-fashioned partnerships with stores on Main Street. Here are five examples of ways that e-commerce retailers are creating local footprints right now.
1. Rent the Runway: Opening boutiques inside larger stores.
As Rent the Runway looks toward expansion, the online dress and accessory rental service partnered with Neiman Marcus this year and opened a series of mini-boutiques inside brick-and-mortar Neiman Marcus stores. The partnership appears to be a win/win for the retailers, with Neiman benefiting from Rent the Runway’s younger customer base—the average Neiman customer is 51, while Rent the Runway customers are an average of 29 years old. The partnership has also allowed Rent the Runway to solidify its footprint in key local markets, starting with San Francisco, without having to manage the cost of opening standalone storefronts. Smaller online businesses can do the same by partnering with retailers on Main Street in their own communities and giving their customers a place to try-out or purchase their products in person.
2. Tradesy: Giving shoppers a way to make returns in-person.
Consumers feel more confident shopping at physical stores knowing there’s a place they can come back to later if a problem comes up. Many e-commerce retailers have struggled in this area, but Tradesy—a mobile app and website that re-sells designer fashions—found a way around the challenge by partnering with a startup called Happy Returns. Since April, Tradesy has been allowing shoppers in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, DC to return their online purchases in-person at kiosks run by Happy Returns. Tradesy also uses Happy Returns as a location where customers can interact with customer service reps. Happy Returns works with a number of online retailers, and it has kiosks—known as “Return Bars”—in metro areas throughout the country.
3. Amazon: Opening pop-up shops to showcase new products.
Even retail behemoths like Amazon are discovering that a local footprint is essential for continued expansion. Earlier this year, the online retailer announced plans to open dozens more pop-up stores inside shopping malls. The miniature storefronts have become a place for Amazon to showcase hardware devices like Echo, Kindle e-readers, and Fire TV. Mini pop-up shops give consumers a chance to experience the products before making high-value purchase, without requiring Amazon to spend as much money as if it were opening full-size independent stores throughout the country. Many online artisans have operated similarly for years, showcasing their wares at craft fairs and other local events, even while the bulk of their sales continue to happen online.
4. DODOcase: Connecting would-be buyers with local brand experts.
DODOcase manufactures high-end cases for tablets and laptops. Although the company has grown in popularity thanks to positive press, DODOcase still has limited multi-channel distribution and sells primarily online. It can be challenging to persuade consumers to purchase high-end goods that they can’t feel for themselves, so the company started using the Gorilly platform to give people the opportunity to try out products before they buy. Customers who’ve purchased DODOcase products can sign up to show other people what they bought, in exchange for a commission on resulting sales. Shoppers who’d like to see an item in person before they buy can search for one of these local “brand experts” on Gorilly’s site and then decide where and when to meet up to learn more about the product in person. Virtually any brand that sells online can partner with Gorilly, although larger brands are likely to see the greatest results from the platform.
5. Best Buy: Encouraging online shoppers to pickup orders in-store.
For e-commerce retailers that already have brick-and-mortar stores in place, adding a “buy online, pick up in store” feature has been a proven mechanism for driving sales and reducing delivery costs. Online shoppers who come into a store to pickup an order have a high likelihood of purchasing additional items, also known as add-ons. In the case of Best Buy and other mega-retailers, having an in-store pickup option available also reminds customers that these stores are ultimately “local” businesses, with brick-and-mortar storefronts that they can visit to avoid lengthy shipping times or delivery costs.
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.