The brick-and-mortar success of digitally native vertical brands has effectively challenged the narrative that e-commerce alone is the best way to succeed in the age of Amazon. From Everlane — whose CEO once said he'd never open physical stores — to Warby Parker's 100+ store locations, these pioneers have thrived during a retail downturn.
This success can be attributed in part to a steady revenue stream from online sales and to VC investments in retail expansions for digitally native upstarts. But this doesn't mean there aren't plenty of lessons for traditional retailers to learn from this model of online-to-offline success.
Stop thinking in silos
The customer journey is no longer linear, and digitally native brands with physical stores understand this. For example, jewelry e-tailer Blue Nile displays its wares in showrooms but has customers place orders efficiently via tablets. Other brands are experts at leveraging email or social media marketing to customers who have visited a store in person. The point is that it's not simply about funneling the customer from online discovery to offline purchase — it's about understanding that each touchpoint makes an impact, and the journey arc shouldn't be presumed.
It's now accepted that brands should be blending online and offline channels, and creating that seamless experience starts with managing a coherent presence across the maps, apps, and AI-powered discovery services that consumers use every day. Consumers don't live in silos. They research products on desktop and mobile, and when it's time to visit a store, the device isn't left behind (smartphones are a primary shopping companion for research, comparisons, and purchases). Stores that understand the multitude of ways that shoppers interact with both online information and physical products are more likely to capture their attention — and their dollars.
Expand opportunities for direct communication
A reported 82% of millennials believe it's important for a brand to have physical stores, but as legacy retailers continue to struggle, it's clear that stores aren't enough.
Marketers are often quick to throw around terms like personalization, but creating a truly one-to-one experience isn't as simple as targeting ads. Relevant messaging matters, but the true lesson from digitally native vertical brands is about the power of using direct communication to build a connection with consumers.
Research from J.D. Power indicates that two-thirds of all U.S. consumers expect to be able to converse directly with the companies from which they buy. But how can larger traditional retailers make this a reality?
With advancements in conversational AI, chatbots are one alternative. Customers report being willing to converse with a bot, if they're aware that they're talking to one, and this technology allows businesses to answer thousands of customer questions they wouldn't be able to respond to manually.
Traditional retailers also shouldn't pass up the opportunity to use in-store events as a way of making shoppers feel like VIPs. Giving customers something they can't get online — whether that's attending an in-store Q&A or previewing a new clothing collection — is critical.
Everyone likes to feel valued, but retailers would do well to remember one more lesson from these millennial-friendly clicks-to-bricks pioneers: Creating an elevated in-store experience is more than just fun — it plays an important role in turning shoppers into brand advocates, who are likely to snap pics and share their exclusive experience on social media.