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Retail Intelligence: Will more e-commerce businesses follow Warby Parker and move offline?

April 21, 2013
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Online-only eyeglasses retailer Warby Parker has just opened its first flagship retail store in New York, suggesting that retailers need both an online and offline presence to reach consumers. This trend looks set to continue, as shoppers increasingly use bricks and mortar ‘showrooms’ to try on a product before purchasing online.

Warby Parker sells vintage-inspired prescription eyeglasses and has only ever sold to consumers directly through its website. Their strategy was to cut out the middleman and provide higher-quality, better-looking prescription eyewear at a fraction of the price. Selling direct online – without the overheads of a physical presence – allowed them to increase their margins and sell glasses for prices starting from $95, much lower than the typical $300+ charged by other eyewear retailers.

However, the retailer has just opened its first ever standalone store in New York, with further stores planned. But why the change of strategy? Warby’s founders discovered that allowing consumers to interact with their products via pop-up shops actually boosted sales. Co-founder David Gilboa explained, “At the end of the day, we’re trying to provide the best possible experience for our customers and that means offering our glasses where they like to shop. We’re able to offer beautiful glasses at great price points, and we’re able to do that both online and offline.”

The retailer also wants to bring more tech into the traditional offline retail world, by wiring its stores to collect data. Using Wi-Fi, sensors and other technology, it’s aiming to get a better understanding of how people shop, their in-store flow and product preferences. This insight, married with their existing online shopping data, will provide the retailer with unique intelligence that will help inform pricing, design and other critical business decisions.

Warby Parker is clearly bringing together online and offline to create the much talked about ‘omnichannel’ approach to retailing. But as Wired’s Marcus Wohlsen has commented, Warby is going ‘omni’ in the opposite direction, as an online-only retail startup opening a store. Will more e-commerce brands follow suit? A recent Forrester report revealed that physical stores still hold the greatest influence over consumers’ purchasing decisions. It’s therefore unlikely that even the biggest online-only retailers such as Amazon aren’t considering their place in the physical world, as consumers want to interact with brands and products in the way that best suits their needs. web-based competitor price monitoring for retailers and brands

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