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Brick & Mortar is Back

Written By Shannon Bailey

July 11, 2019

Amazon Books in Bethesda, MD

The online marketplace completely disrupted the retail shopping experience. But one of the original disruptors, Amazon, is steadily making their way back to brick and mortar stores. Now with 17 locations, the online brand has a very real physical footprint—and they are not alone. Other digitally native companies are making similar moves: Adore Me, Bonobos, UNTUCKit, and Peloton to mention a few. Of course, Amazon didn’t make this decision without taking into account ROI. But the success metrics may not be the traditional ones we expect. 

Direct-to-consumer brand Warby Parker is investing in retail with the goal of collecting data. They expect customers to leave empty handed with the plan of shopping online later. Casper mattress started online and quickly moved into 200 locations nationwide. The convenience of shopping online has limitations. When selling a tangible product, touching and feeling is believing. 

Companies that provide intangible services, however, also see the value of interacting with customers in person.  Zola, the online wedding planning and registry site, just opened a store in New York City. Their brides and grooms-to-be can wedding plan, build a registry, and even 3D print a personalized wedding topper. 

Brand awareness and brand education are difficult to accomplish in marketing—both to track and to measure. In a store, brands are directly interacting with customers. It is personal. It is conversational. And, it is the most authentic interaction a brand can have with a customer. What we’re seeing today with this resurgence of brick and mortar locations is something we’ve known all along: that people value a physical experience, even for an intangible idea.

While most of us don’t carry as much cash as we once did, we still value the physical representation of currency—the dollar bill. And we’re not simply content to practice our religion in our homes. We visit a church, mosque or temple to celebrate and praise our Gods. Religious institutions bring our beliefs to life.  

Belief is an intangible concept. You cannot touch or hold belief in your hands. But whether you are trying on the clothes, sitting on the furniture or testing the newest Dyson hair dryer, having the physical, tactile, and in-person experience is a critical element to building belief in a brand. 

The move to physical retail locations is justified by market research and trends in consumer behavior with the goal of driving sales. Feeling is believing. Believing is buying. Whether belief comes from handling the product or talking with a well-educated sales associate, nothing can compare to the connections you make IRL.