Instagram first, sell afterwards: that’s an ethos that more ecommerce companies are adopting as they go offline.
Opening physical stores (or pop-ups, showrooms, whatever) has become a viable path for some of the biggest digital ecommerce darlings, like Everlane, Glossier, Warby Parker, Bonobos and Casper, to name just a few. The trend however doesn’t just apply to the most well-known digitally native brands; it seems to be a blueprint for other niche digital companies like Greats, a luxury sneaker company and Amerisleep, an eight-year-old mattress company.
“As a company, you have to sell to your customers the way they want to be sold,” said Bruce Winder, a retail consultant. “These stores allow for experiential brand building. It’s another way to connect with the customer and connect in a rich, deep way.”
Greats is preparing to open its first retail store in the SoHo area of New York on April 20, having already opened up its first store on Venice Beach in Los Angeles in February. The store will include programming, events and unique products that will only be found in the New York location.
“We’re not driving our retail health to a certain amount of revenue every day,” said Ryan Babenzien, CEO and co-founder of Greats. “The product generally sells itself. That’s why we feel programing the space with interesting experiences is helpful to that education process. We’re focused on the customer understanding what we do and how we do it.”
Of course, the store wouldn’t be complete in today’s world without something to Instagram, so the space has a swing in the window where people can take photos.
“It’s another brand touchpoint,” Widner said. “You can build that equity by having this interesting dynamic experience that matches the brand’s character.”
This type of experiential shopping is part of what Greats wants to do with its stores; it’s not just a means to sell items but to have consumers get in touch with the brand. Babenzien said that even the sales associates hired weren’t necessarily people with the highest commissions from past jobs—they were just the most “passionate about Greats and [the] changing of footwear.”
Amerisleep, a mattress company founded in 2010, employs a similar technique. The company’s in-store sales associates take sleep science classes, get certified and are there to make sure consumers in-store find the right mattress.
“We try to take a consolidated approach,” said Firas Kittaneh, CEO of Amerisleep. “We train our ambassadors to consult with [consumers] and find out what is really driving them to the store.”
The company, which opened its first store last year in Arizona, also has a social media worthy component, called the Dream Suite. Customers can take a nap on a bed, try out the pillows and sheets (accessories Amerisleep also sells), and then decide if they want to buy the bed. Kittaneh said Amerisleep sees a 40 to 50 percent conversion rate of customers who try the product in-store.
“Customers find us online and they come into our retail store and they get an exceptional experience,” Kittaneh said. “Overall, the [average order] value is higher in retail than it is online.”
The company is opening up its first Texas store in Austin on April 21 (this is its fourth store overall), with plans to open two stores in Colorado later this year. Kittaneh also wants to keep expanding domestically and internationally, in places like Australia, South Korea and the Middle East. As part of the Austin store opening, Amerisleep will be debuting a soft launch of its Dual Comfort Pillow.
Kittaneh thinks the company’s commitment to using eco-friendly products to create its products and manufacturing in the U.S. is a key aspect that keeps customers coming back.
“Customers are interested in knowing what goes into the products that they purchase,” Kittaneh said. “They want to support brands that focus on quality and sustainability. They can find everything they need about our product [online] and they can read third-party verified reviews.”
Unlike many of Amerisleep’s competitors, the company’s been profitable since the beginning, never took outside funding and just reached a landmark revenue of $100 million in 2017. Kittaneh credits the “American dream” to getting here.
“It’s an opportunity for me to show others what Muslims are doing and providing and contributing to society,” Kittaneh said. “Being a Muslim-American that has created a thriving business, it really is the American dream of having an idea, sharing that idea with other Americans, creating jobs, aiding families.”
For now, Babenzien said consumers should be on the lookout to see more digitally native brands to come to life.
“We’re all undistributed and that allows us to have high performing retail,” Babenzien said.
Winder believes that traditional retailers are starting to understand why these digitally native brands work offline.
“You need experiential locations, where you can talk to staff and community as well,” Winder said. “You [also] have to have a strong digital footprint so folks can learn about the brand and interact with the brand.”