Something’s Brewing In Online Shopping As Web Giants Start Invading Offline Retail

There’s a counterintuitive trend brewing in Canada, where despite e-commerce sales expected to hit $30 billion this year, some retailers who started out on-line are now moving to traditional brick-and mortar stores in an effort to take some of the near $40-billion a month of retail revenue seen in our neighbors to the north.

Custom menswear on-line retailer Indochino, which started off with online stores back in 2011, has now opened showrooms in its hometown of Vancouver, as well as Toronto, San Francisco, New York, and Philadelphia, with a Boston location opening later this month, a telltale sign that digital retail may not be the be all and end all of shopping.

Company founder and CEO Kyle Vucko said “It (on-line stores) was a big leap for us at the time but we are now bucking the trend.”

Vucko said the move to traditional retailing came after customers said they wanted to feel and see fabrics as well as get advice face-to-face from stylists.

He said there were some items that were on-line friendly – such as electronics and books – where customers were happy with descriptive specifications, but apparel wasn’t really in that category unless they were a well known brand that a customer had purchased before. He said with new brands, customers wanted to see how a product fitted and wore.

Indochino will keep its online component – an approach known as an omnichannel strategy – web, mobile and traditional retail – all being used to reach new customers.

Other Canadian retailers had a different approach to omnichannel retailing. Roy Hessel, CEO for Clearly, also based in Vancouver, said he uses a “digital first” approach for his vision correction products.

He said “When we talk about omnichannel, I think that we should look at it much more broadly than just the tension between website, mobile and the physical store. When I look at it, as a CEO of a mainly digital company, I look at it as a multidimensional approach.”

He said for his company, which launched online in 2000, the on-line store allowed for worldwide customers while his recently opened retail outlets in Toronto and Vancouver, were being used as testing grounds for new products.

“We see our retail stores as learning labs, where we get the chance to test new things, observe how people shop, and gather feedback,” he said “The biggest challenge that eyeglass customers have is finding the right fit –they always need the feedback of a friend or a professional.”

Hessel said customers now often take selfies to see how they suit new frames and also send these to friends to seek their opinions.

Chris Naidu, co-owner of Toronto based Park & Province, which sells men’s clothing and accessories, said since he opened a traditional storefront last month, on-line sales have grown, although in-store sales outpaced on-line purchases.

He said both channels seemed to be driving traffic to the other. He said customers browsing on-line often visited the stores to try on something they had seen, while similarly customers who had been in the stores often went home to purchase online what they had seen, felt and tried on.
Naidu believed the physical stores were also important in that it helped build relationships and create brand aesthetics.

“That traditional aspect of being able to introduce somebody into your own space and creating this environment for them – that will never go away,” he said. “I think that’s definitely the most important aspect to why we opened the store … for reasons like that, in person is always better.”

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