The relationship between online and off-line retailing was a major topic at the WWD Real Estate Forum, with executives from three brands sharing their different approaches.
Ben Fay, vice president of retail development and customer experience at Birchbox, and Miriam Gassel, vice president of merchandising at BaubleBar, said their companies have opened brick-and-mortar stores, but their level of commitment to physical retail differs.
“At Birchbox, we understand that there’s a craving for an off-line version of Birchbox,” Fay said. “We love continuing conversations we start online with people who want a one-on-one experience in SoHo. Off-line retail is a very sought after channel for us.”
Birchbox found that the store allows it to offer loyalty-boosting services such as hair and makeup touch-ups, nail polish changes and classes, free for Birchbox subscribers and $30 for others, on topics such as skin-care ingredients.
Fay said the SoHo store “is about empowerment. We offer efficiency, convenience and we do the legwork to find the best brands. We offer more than 800 brands. The question is, how do we make that digestible in a store and not overwhelm the customer.”
Gassel said with BaubleBar‘s raison d’être of translating fast-fashion styling and contextualizing the constant flow of newness for consumers, a brick-and-mortar store makes sense. BaubleBar opened a shop at the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y., carefully tracking its customer base. The store offers 1,000 styles and “brings the best of the online and off-line worlds to the customer,” Gassel said. It translated its online Build-a-Bar feature in the store, which Gassel said is familiar to shoppers.
“The human touch point is critical,” she said. “We have a team of stylists who walk customers through new selections and through the shopping experience. We love getting new customers through stores, but it’s not a primary driver. The key is to become truly omnichannel and close the gap between the two experiences.”
Unlike Birchbox and BaubleBar, Mintbox, a Web site that gives members exclusive discounts and style experiences from a roster of online and in-store partners, isn’t seeking an off-line version of itself, rather, it wants to deepen its relationships with key retailers.
Members now can “RSVP” for any deal advertised on the site — such as 15 to 30 percent off designer apparel at Saks Fifth Avenue — and go to the store to claim their discount or other perk.
A new platform based on the Mintbox personal sale request will launch in the first quarter of 2016, Elizabeth Morina, vice president of partnerships at Mintbox.
“We envision an alliance-based ecosystem of fashion retailers. Retailers have lost a good degree of influence,” Morina said, adding that consumers today are in the driver’s seat. “It’s the customer’s choice.”
Tools retailers have relied on such as online stylists and research on Google or other search engines “don’t send consumers to stores,” she said, adding that Mintbox’s concept is built around a personalized shopping experience. Some retailers are having a difficult time appealing to Millennials, for whom price is important. “Digital created a value-driven consumer who loves fashion,” Morina said. “The personal shopping trip is the next digital revolution.”
The Mintbox platform will open a dialogue between prospective consumers and store associates; Mintbox is actively seeking partners. While hovering over a store’s page and seeing animated perks live, customers will be asked if they want to be contacted by a store representative prior to their visit.
“You tap into the power of shopping advisers,” Morina said. “Every sale leaves room for [additional] full-price selling and margin improvement. It’s like pricing on a one-to-one basis.”