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Brick is the New Black

Digitally native brands are building brick-and-mortar stores like there’s no tomorrow.

Many of us can’t imagine a life without internet giants like Facebook, Amazon and Google, and that goes double for digital natives who share a special relationship with brands born online. These companies dwell in our apps and browsers, never really inviting us to leave our houses and pick them off an actual shelf. But lately they’re seeking more than our clicks and views. In what seems almost counterintuitive, digital-first brands are entering brick-and-mortar retail. Slowly but surely, they’re supplementing their clicks with bricks by opening physical stores.

In an age of mass store closures, these brands are determined to grow their physical footprint in new and innovative ways. Most of their ventures have been successful because of one delicious advantage: inside details on their customer base. Internet companies already are privy to their customers’ addresses, occupations and purchase patterns, so they can use this data to design and customize every aspect of the brick-and-mortar space.

How have they revived the retail experience? Why do we still love buying things in person? To examine this trend we looked at seven new retail shops by formerly online-only enterprises.


Everlane is joining the ranks of Warby Parker and Bonobos by dipping its toe in real estate. The company has set its eyes on a stand-alone shop in its hometown of San Francisco, with an already painted storefront enticing passers-by with its “100% Human” mantra. The socially conscious clothing brand promises “radical transparency” by breaking down each item’s cost by material, labor, duties and transport, thereby also revealing its markup. It will be interesting to see how this matrix translates to a point-of-sale display, and whether the atmosphere will reflect the minimalism of Everlane’s products.


In an ironic twist, the e-commerce giant responsible for driving bookstores out of business has been opening physical bookstores all over the country. The Amazon difference: innovative customer experience. Rejecting the spine-out presentation of traditional bookshelves, Amazon’s book covers face the customer. In addition to regular bookstore sections like “Autobiography” or “Architecture,” there are sections like “Books People Finished Within Three Days on Their Kindle” or “Books Rated 4.8 Stars or Above”. The store even has cards featuring Amazon user reviews, original grammar, et. al. Amazon’s seemingly regressive move actually makes strategic sense when considering that e-books are on the decline for the first time after years of steady growth. For book-stocking leads, Amazon uses a combination of “customer ratings, pre-orders, sales, popularity on Goodreads and curators’ assessments.” The books chosen for sale are data-driven instead of a handful of employees determining best-selling authors.


As a brand truly born on social media, Glossier owes much of its success to Instagram and millennial-friendly branding. Once a humble make-up blog, the company has opened a showroom where its followers and subscribers can buy their lip balms and concealers in person. “It’s like the Internet, in real life,” Glossier’s website states. And sure enough, the space mimics Glossier’s rose-tinted website and Instagram feed, even extending to the pale pink overalls worn by sales associates called “editors” and blown-up photos of dewy, natural faces just as artfully curated as the brand’s social media aesthetic.


It looks like Airbnb took neighbors’ complaints about frequent guests to heart and is building a community exclusively designed for seamless home-sharing near Walt Disney World Resorts in Florida. Complete with a garden-style complex, keyless entry, an Airbnb-compatible app and large common areas, the 324-unit building will also be staffed by a master host who will help guests get settled and manage their maintenance and cleaning. The tenants can even rent out their houses for up to six months a year as part of Airbnb’s Friendly Building Program. Planning branded apartments is a bold move for a short-term home rental service that often runs into trouble with real estate landlords.


After selling its wireless speakers primarily through Amazon and Target, now Sonos also is trying its hand at physical spaces. The brand’s direct-to-consumer retail store in Soho is its first, where shoppers test the speakers with their own music in seven different private listening huts designed to synthesize a home listening experience. A great ‘Wall of Sound” — made up of nearly 300 speakers and acoustic foam — spans the back of the room calling out to meandering pedestrians.


“I don’t think retail is dead. Mediocre retail experiences are dead,” says Neil Blumenthal, Warby Parker co-founder and co-chief executive. This pocket-friendly eyewear brand, which already has 61 stores, plans to open 20 more before year-end. Its best example yet is the Melrose Avenue store in West Hollywood, where there’s a “green room” with a photo booth for 15-second videos that can be taken against all kinds of backgrounds. There are even green screen lenses and blankets to simulate an entire look. Through its unique experiences and Instagrammable properties, Warby Parker encourages you to visit its stores for an experience beyond what you’d usually expect buying glasses or visiting the eye doctor.


Even though this one is a pop-up and no permanent location, we wanted to give a special shout-out to Bumble, which recently became the only dating app so far to have a brick-and-mortar storefront. Aptly called “The Hive,” the space attracts Bumble fans like bees to honey and features a range of singles events.

E-commerce may well get greater exposure and more clicks, but the plain fact is, half-filled shopping carts lie unattended and forgotten on websites everywhere. This, while stores still enjoy high conversion rates and profit margins. So with more and more younger consumers and Gen Zers preferring the bricks-and-mortar experience, internet retailers have realized they need to build their own brand manifestations that people can touch, hold and share on social media. Instead of asking old, transactional questions, then, like, “How do we sell more things?”, brands are busily asking, “How can we build personal relationships with our customers and have them come back every time?”

This post was written by ThoughtMatter Cultural Strategist Shivani Gorle. ThoughtMatter is a creative branding, design and strategy studio in New York City’s Flatiron District. Find us on Twitter.



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ThoughtMatter is a creative branding, design and strategy studio with an artful perspective |