Should E-Commerce Sites Open Physical Stores?

Filed in Blog, Customer Service by on December 9, 2014
Should E-Commerce Sites Open Physical Stores?

The answer is yes, if you are Warby Parker and have a developed a successful online business model.

I read The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times Business Section everyday; both papers have excellent articles.  Front page of the Journal a few weeks ago was a story by Douglas MacMillan focused on Warby Parker, the popular fashion eyewear manufacturer.  The company was a startup in 2010 and only an ecommerce site until 2013 when their first store was opened in New York City.

Warby Parker was new to me.  Our friends told us about their website when we complimented their new glasses one night at dinner.  They were excited about Warby’s business/service model and explained about the home “try-on” program allowing customers to select five favorite pairs and wear them for five days.  Then one or more frames can be selected and ordered with a customized prescription.  Our friends were impressed with Warby’s donation of one frame to charity for every pair they sell.  We discussed their mission to be socially conscious and creation of good will.

Reading The Wall Street Journal article further piqued my interest.  My focus is customer service so several things stood out and got my attention:

  • By having physical stores, Warby Parker is able to significantly reduce costs for shipping and handling.  The retail store locations have been selected in cities that match their target market. That makes sense.
  • Brick and mortar stores have the potential for more personalized service. Retail consultant, Bruce Cohen, from Kurt Salmon, says “Consumers want to be talked to in a personal way – Once you get a good retail Sherpa – your curator of good taste and fashion that knows you- you become incredibly loyal.”
  • Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal, the original Warby Parker founders, learned early on that customers wanted to try on frames before they bought them. When the company first started, the two invited customers into Mr. Blumenthal’s apartment, where they laid out glasses on the dining room table. “They loved being able to touch and feel the product” providing the foundation for online choices and brick and mortar store locations.”
  • Their newest store in San Francisco will have sales people, called “advisors” who will roam the showroom “in designer jackets and fine-tuned spectacles.”  I’m confident these sales associates will not only look good, but know their merchandise and customers too.

Amazon plans to open its first physical store in New York any day now. I know they will learn from their successful online retailer counterpart.  Warby has focused on personalizing service and giving the customer what they want, no matter the channel.  Warby Parker is in the eyewear business and has its eyes focused on creating the best customer experience.

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