Shopping – It’s About the Experience, Connection and Dancing

April 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

Women Shopping on London's Portobello Road 2

This week’s big news in the world of fashion and retail has been the opening of online eyewear retailer Warby Parker‘s first brick-and-mortar flagship store in Manhattan’s SoHo district.  When I say “big news,” I mean really big.  The launch has been covered in online publications as diverse as the Fashion & Style section of The New York TimesGQ MagazineBusiness of Fashion,  CNBC Fast Company and TechCrunch .  Vogue.com even published a slideshow of images from the opening night party.    

Why all the hoopla?  For those who have not yet heard of Warby Parker, they are an industry-disrupting, online purveyor of prescription eyewear. A pair of glasses costs $95.00 (frames and prescription lenses included) and for each pair purchased the company distributes a pair to someone in need.  The attention they have received is due in part to the solid brand reputation and awareness they’ve built to date.  There is an element of “cool” associated with the Warby Parker brand, one that has the consumer beating a path to their door.

But that is not all of the story.  By staking their claim in the world of brick-and-mortar retail, it appears as though Warby Parker believes that a real-world presence will result in increased sales, both offline and online.  Their use of technology and data gathering in their physical stores (there are two more planned to open this year), that will be merged with their online traffic and sales data, certainly supports the likelihood that this is their goal.  And this is the news that has driven the heightened interest by pretty much everyone with an interest in e-commerce, fashion, technology and the marriage of all three.

It’s worth noting that Warby Parker had already tested the waters with showrooms in several major cities across the country and with two small retail locations in Manhattan, so they knew demand was there.  The company knew that by creating a physical location where potential customers could go to try on frames and take their picture in a photo booth to share with their friends, that they would tap into the desire that people have to get out to stores and shop, as an activity.  We are social creatures and shopping is above all else a social experience.

Warby Parker understands this and they’re not the only company to have this revelation: men’s retailer Bonobos and women’s retailer Piperlime have also grasped the concept, making forays into offline world with retail outlets.  In a recent study conducted by Infosys, the data showed that even hyper-connected, social media savvy teens prefer to shop in-store than online, the ease, convenience and, often, price advantage of shopping online not withstanding.  This has not been lost on internet entrepreneurs who are doing their part to replicate the experience of shared discovery and feedback in the virtual world.  Several companies are attempting to create community while shopping in cyberspace, including Go Try It OnFashism and Pose, all of which facilitate sharing looks and obtaining the opinions of others (family, friends or fashion-savvy strangers).

There has been a shift in our values and attitudes when it comes to consumption.  After years of purchasing as much as we could for as little as possible, we’ve started to show a preference for experiences over the acquisition of things, for story and for connection.  In their take on the future of the industry, The New Rules of Retail: Competing in the World’s Toughest Marketplace, Robin Lewis and Michael Dart detail the transformation taking place into the retail landscape (what they call “Wave III” in the history of retailing).  Primary among the characteristics of this current phase is the move “From Needing Stuff to Demanding Experiences.”  Both online and offline, there needs to be a story and there needs to be a means of connection for the consumer.  Think Zappos and eBay, and Trader Joe’s, lululemon and Abercrombie & Fitch.  Think the Apple store.  Think Warby Parker.  All provide a specific means of emotional connection with their brand.

Bottom line, it’s not one or the other.  Online and offline work together; they feed each other.  Each venue drives awareness and traffic to the other in a what ideally is a well-orchestrated dance.  For some brands and retailers this dance will be the samba and for other the waltz.  Each company gets to choose their dance (i.e. offline/online mix and strategy) based on the needs of their business, their story and their understanding of their customers’ preferences.

But you’ve got to get up and boogie.  That is the story behind Warby Parker.

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