How Challenger Brands Are Bridging the Gap Between Ecommerce and Brick and Mortar

Harry's, Away and Untuckit are all upping their presence in physical retail

Senior editor Robert Klara spoke with Away's vp, brand marketing, Selena Kalvaria. Sean T. Smith for Adweek
Headshot of Nicole Ortiz

During our Brandweek: Challenger Brands summit Feb. 6–7, the “Bricks and Clicks” session featured panels from Away’s vp, brand marketing, Selena Kalvaria, and Harry’s vp, marketing, Lorna Sommerville, with moderator Robert Klara and Untuckit’s CEO and co-founder, Aaron Sanandres, with moderator Jameson Fleming.

The challenger brands spoke about how they’re bridging the gap between ecommerce and retail by creating pop-ups, physical stores and partnerships in existing stores to showcase their products in a different way.

In the instance of Away, founders Stephanie Korey and Jennifer Rubio initially made the leap into brick and mortar by creating a pop-up with no key performance indicators (KPIs) out of fear of missing something if they assigned specific KPIs elsewhere.

The brand started out with one pop-up and now has seven physical locations where people can not only get a feel for its products, but also get involved in the “community [forming] within the stores,” said Kalvaria. That’s because you can find more than just suitcases at Away’s stores. There are also related community-based events and a cafe where people chat about their hobbies and love of travel.

"I think it’s more important as you scale to keep the consumer in mind, and if that's where he wants [to be], that’s where we’ll be."
—Lorna Sommerville, vp, marketing, Harry's

“Opening pop-ups really enabled us to see how the customer interacts with the product, but also how do they interact with the brand,” Kalvaria said. “The way that that pop-up was originally designed was, yes, there are things to buy that are from Away, but there are also products that are highly curated that tell a story of travel.”

“You need to make it accessible so the customer can pull it down off the shelf and then, actually, similar to how you try on clothes, [they can] wheel it around and see how it feels, look in the mirror [and see how it fits] with [their] outfit,” continued Kalvaria, touching on how the goal is to make consumers see their suitcases like purses, where they have suitcases for different types of trips and to go with various outfits.

In a similar vein, Harry’s also let consumers touch and see their products, rather than being limited to only viewing them online, selling them in Target, Walmart, J.Crew, The Standard hotel, Soho House and other partnering locations.

Sommerville noted that consumers “can walk up to the shelf and see their array of options and touch them.”

“There are definitely benefits for d-to-c,” Sommerville continued, “I think it’s more important as you scale to keep the consumer in mind, and if that’s where he wants [to be], that’s where we’ll be.” This became especially obvious last year after Harry’s released body washes and bar soaps, which consumers can smell to see if it’s what they’re looking for.

In creating these physical retail partnerships, Harry’s is making what can be an overwhelming shopping experience into a straightforward, simple process by selling one razor with one set of blade cartridges and three different color choices. “It isn’t because we think our customers are incapable of navigating, but it’s just that he doesn’t want to,” Sommerville said. “So we make one product that we believe is the best.”

Untuckit also started out small—really small, in fact, with an initial store that averaged approximately 1,200 square feet—with its first physical retail location and has now grown to 50 stores nationwide. But it connected in physical stores by recognizing its consumers’ desire to walk away with a bag of products.

“We made the decision because we know our customer wants to feel gratified when he or she buys something,” Sanandres said. “And we knew that early on.”

Of course, one of the biggest challenges across the board is the difference between targeting consumers digitally and attempting to do so in a physical store.

"We figured out our marketing by definition need to be fairly demo-agnostic."
—Aaron Sanandres, CEO and co-founder, Untuckit

A big part of Untuckit’s journey has been centered around constantly evolving to reach new subsets of their consumer. “We figured out our marketing by definition needs to be fairly demo-agnostic,” Sanandres said. “The next phase of our evolution that really started the summer of last year was around [marketing to] everybody. It was this message of inclusivity that regardless of your body type, we’ve got 50 different sizing combos.”

And while it’s easy to track the people who come to your location and learn in-depth data about those who do and don’t buy from the store, which you can then incorporate into future retargeting, it’s nearly impossible to do the same in-store. “Maybe 20 people buy for every 100, but the 80 that don’t, you don’t know anything about,” Sanandres said. “How you apply a digital mindset to an offline world is challenging.”

However, as Kalvaria noted, part of bridging that gap is creating a tie-in between digital and reality, and for Away, that comes in the form of featuring in-store questions on Instagram Stories. For instance, one popular question is how people can pack their bags in the most efficient way, and Away has incorporated a section in their store for people to practice packing. “It’s kind of a live focus group,” she said.

This cohesion is also apparent in Harry’s approach. “With our website, we’ve done a lot of work to optimize that journey to help people understand how to navigate shaving, but when we present it with our portfolio, it’s kind of tricky on the side of experience to help people understand everything that’s available,” Sommerville said. “When you walk up to the shelf, you can see it all right in front of you.”

Read more about our Brandweek: Challenger Brands event here.

@neco_ornot Nicole Ortiz is a senior editor at Adweek, overseeing magazine departments such as Trending, Talent Pool, Data Points, Voice and Perspective.