By  on May 9, 2012

NEW YORK — Piperlime is joining the rush from e-tail to retail.

The Web site, owned by Gap Inc., this fall will open a 4,000-square-foot store at 121 Wooster Street here, marking its initial move into physical retailing and the first of what could become a chain of stores.

Piperlime becomes the latest online retailer to move into the world of brick-and-mortar — Amazon.com is said to be looking at locations for a store in Seattle, while sites such as eBay and Park & Bond have experimented with pop-up shops. Gilt Group holds warehouse sales in several cities, including the Altman Building here on May 18 and 19.

Piperlime has never been one to be constrained by strict definitions, having grown its business organically. When the e-commerce site bowed in 2006, it focused on footwear and handbags. In 2009, it branched out into apparel. Men’s wear followed in 2011. Piperlime’s leap to brick-and-mortar marks yet another expansion — and the fast growth of the omni-channel world, be it Macy’s, Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue.

The goal of all these retailers is to reach the consumer wherever they are — online, in a store or on their smartphone or tablet device. The reason is a simple one: financial. Stephen I. Sadove, chief executive officer of Saks Inc., revealed at a Fashion Group International seminar in March that Saks’ omni-channel customer spends about four times as much as the person just shopping through the usual channels.

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Macy’s believes omni-channel retailing is a key to reaching the Millennial consumer. “This will be the single-biggest purchasing group, bigger than the Baby Boomers.…We must be the place of choice for this consumer,” Terry J. Lundgren, Macy’s Inc. chairman, president and ceo, said last month at the Global Retailing Conference at the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing at the University of Arizona.

No wonder pure plays want a piece of that omni-channel pie.

“The store will have a women’s focus,” said Jennifer Gosselin, senior vice president and general manager of Piperlime, of the SoHo unit. “We will have clothing and we’ll be showing our disproportionate love of shoes and accessories. There will be a mix of discovery and established brands across all categories. The store gives us a great opportunity to create a multichannel or omni-channel experience, which is how we know our customers are shopping today.”

In fact, Piperlime maintains a close dialogue with its shoppers. It was customers who whispered the idea of a physical store into Piperlime’s proverbial ear. “Piperlime’s customer has been asking us for a place where they can experience the brand,” Gosselin said. “We feel New York is the perfect place.”

Asked whether Piperlime will open additional brick-and-mortar stores, Gosselin said, “We will follow her [the customer’s] lead in that regard. We’re always open to new things.”

Gosselin added, “You’ll experience the brand across all dimensions, see how looks have been put together and interact with sales associates.”

Gosselin said many of the elements that make Piperlime unique will translate well to brick-and-mortar, like the mix of established and discovery brands, with Milly, Frye and Citizens of Humanity representing the former, and Tinley Road, Ash and Maison Scotch epitomizing little-known finds.

Piperlime carries more than 500 apparel, footwear and accessories brands for men, women and children, ranging from casual to designer. “Obviously, the store is smaller than the site so that gives us the opportunity to further hone the editing,” Gosselin said. “We’ll have an assortment that’s smaller on the site. We’re responding to what the customer wants.”

Technology will have a place in the store, but “the focus is not on technology for technology’s sake, but technology that is a value-add for the customer,” Gosselin said, adding that “service will be a real focus in store. We’re hiring people who embody the personality of the brand and are friendly and fashion involved.”

Price points in the store will be similar to those on the site. The site claims to offer discovery brands for less than $50 and designer brands for more than $500. Recent items on the site included a C&C California tank at the low end, $24, and an Elizabeth and James Bianca silk top for $345. Dress prices started at $26.99 for Tinley Road’s lace detail dress and went up to $625 for Marc by Marc Jacobs’ taffeta Night Bird dress. “We’re always exploring in an ongoing way,” Gosselin said. “Exclusive product for Piperlime in the store will be similar to the site.” Piperlime last year collaborated with Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent, B. Vintage, Rachel Pally and Ella Moss to launch four exclusive collections. Gosselin said the company is looking for a number of things to do for opening week, possibly exclusives and also events.

Marketing for the Piperlime store will be aligned to the Web site to keep the message consistent. “The store most definitely becomes a marketing vehicle,” Gosselin said. “It is a significant consumer touch point. It has the ability to bring the brand and brand expression to life for customers in a more dimensional way. Our goal is to serve her needs across all channels.”

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Piperlime will explore new categories in the future. It’s also working on how to introduce its guest editor program created to “bring trends from trusted style setters” into the store.

Piperlime was founded by Gap Inc. in 2006. Gap reported net sales for the first quarter ended April 28 rose 6 percent to $3.49 billion compared with $3.3 billion for the first quarter of last year. Gap’s first-quarter comp sales, which include the associated comparable online sales, rose 4 percent compared with a 3 percent drop in last year’s first quarter. According to RetailSails, Piperlime and Athleta in fiscal 2011 accounted for 2.1 percent of Gap’s net sales of $14.55 billion, up from 1.7 percent in 2010.

This is not Piperlime’s first foray into brick-and-mortar retailing. The Web site in 2010 launched its first pop-up store in SoHo, which remained open for 25 days overlapping with New York Fashion Week. Other e-commerce sites have dabbled with physical retail in the form of temporary stores or pop-ups. Ebay in July 2009 created a three-dimensional equivalent of its online self in a 5,000-square-foot space on West 57th Street. Ebay said it wanted people to see what just a fraction of its inventory would look like in a store — even if only for five days.

“Our stores were for promotional purposes,’’ said an eBay spokeswoman. “They are not part of our business model. As a global marketplace, we don’t own any inventory. We do periodically host limited-time physical experiences to illuminate the type of inventory available on the marketplace from brands, retailers and sellers of all sizes.”

Amazon could not be reached for comment about its reported retail venture.

Web sites’ caution about omni-channel retailing perhaps stems from the fact that the concept is more than just the marriage of e-tailing and bricks-and-mortar. “It is so much more than a Web site and a store,” Peter Sachse, chief stores officer of Macy’s said at last month’s Global Retailing Conference of how the company is reinventing its assets with omni-channel concepts. By early next year, he revealed, customers should be able to digitally pay their bills, scour customer reviews, build shopping lists of store items on Facebook and more as they are perusing merchandise at Macy’s locations.

That’s not all. Sachse said virtual mannequins would be tested in the sections Macy’s will devote to Millennial customers. “We will be able to change that display based on the day part,” he noted, adding, “Imagine if it is snowing, and we would like to show you on that virtual mannequin our best outerwear.”

In addition to the virtual mannequins, technology will facilitate what Macy’s has dubbed the “endless aisle.” By swiping through the “endless aisle” on a tablet, customers will get to look at the variety of merchandise available at Macy’s beyond the physical store they might be shopping in at any given moment. “I can assure you the Tucson mall does not have the same kind of Michael Kors handbag assortment” that there is in Herald Square, said Sachse.

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