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More Online Fashion Brands Eyeing Retail Stores as Core to their Business Models

Warby Parker Store UES Window Final“We’re trying to blend both worlds so they complement each other”, said Tim Riley, director of online experience at eyewear brand Warby Parker. He spoke on a panel recently about web-based fashion companies at FIAF (French Institute/Alliance Francaise). Warby Parker is one of a number of fashion brands in the post-startup phase that’s ventured into retail space. Another panelist, Mollie Chen, editorial director of Birchbox, said the beauty products packager is planning to open its first store in SoHo.

Digital-only brands have long been perceived as more cost-effective since they don’t need to pay steep expenses for designing and maintaining posh locales and sales staff. But internet-based companies have found that online-only doesn’t work for all categories. The in-person experience also adds a valuable dimension, forming a holistic customer relationship.

These two brands tested the waters first before investing in retail locations.

Warby Parker Washington Street StoreWarby Parker and its affordable designer styles quickly caught on with eyeglass wearers, but Riley said early on many customers asked the company founder to stop by to try on the frames. Initially the try-ons, which turned into customer feedback sessions, took place at the founders’ apartment. A similar scenario continued at their showrooms, but that became too crowded.

After experimenting with pop-up stores and a mobile yellow school bus shop, management eventually decided that consumers wanted and needed an official in-person option. Warby Parker now has several retail stores, with three in New York City. Its most recent location on Manhattan’s Upper East Side is in a century-old former pharmacy. (window photo above)

Birchbox Package ResizedBirchbox is another brand looking forward to bricks and mortar. “Just because we’re an ecommerce brand doesn’t mean we’re limited to that”, said Chen. She noted that the subscription-based brand “makes beauty products accessible, allows customers to sample, adds context from editors, and provides the option to buy a whole set of products online later.” Birchbox sample boxes arrive in the mail in hot pink boxes, and as Chen noted, bloggers opening the colorful packages in YouTube videos helped to fuel the brand’s initial success.

After testing pop-up stores, Chen said Birchbox’s plans to open retail space will “bring the ease of in-person shopping and allow customers to obtain more information about our products”. The store will have interactive touch-screens, serving as a lab. She said they learned a lot from early adopters, adding, “Now it will be good to personally meet customers and hear their viewpoints.”

(images #2 and #3 courtesy of Warby Parker and Birchbox)

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