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When digital gets physical: etailers push the boundaries of shopping

sezane  4

Some retailers are rethinking the relationship between their online platforms and bricks-and-mortar stores, redefining the future of shops.

In the battle between online and in-store retail, traditional shops are changing. Laptop stations, free wi-fi and iPad-wielding shop assistants are becoming common additions as bricks and mortar retailers attempt to digitise the shopping experience and appeal to tech-savvy shoppers.

However, Deloitte’s Global Powers of Retailing 2016 report asserts: “Retailers are underestimating – or at least under-delivering on – the consumer’s evolving desire and ability to incorporate digital into their in-store shopping journeys”. Its findings reveal that “customers using digital devices in-store were actually more likely to make a purchase in the store.”

There are some retailers that are taking this one step further, however, rethinking the traditional shop concept by connecting it with its digital platforms in new ways. They are taking the best of both worlds, mixing the ability to try clothes on for size, to feel fabric and appreciate fit within an experiential, fully branded world with the hassle-free convenience of online transactions and home delivery, and in doing so are redefining how shoppers shop. For these retailers, shops are no longer shops.

Shops that aren’t shops

Imagine walking into a beautifully furnished apartment full of furniture, books and fully loaded wardrobes of clothes where every single item is for sale. This is the concept of The Apartment by The Line, a totally shoppable store disguised as an aspirational domestic interior. With locations in New York and Los Angeles, it was created as a physical manifestation its online fashion and lifestyle retailing platform The Line (, showing off its webstore product in its intended lifestyle format.

French womenswear brand Sézane has created something similar with its L’Appartement Sézane in Paris. Originally launched as an online-only brand in 2013, it opened a 400 sq m physical extension in 2015 as a “connected” space linked to its online platform (




Designed like an apartment-cum-café, shoppable lifestyle products sit in a communal social space where visitors are encouraged to experience the “Sezane world”. The brand’s clothing collection is also on display for visitors to try on. However, clothing can only be purchased via the brand’s website on in-store computers or personal devices. These clothing purchases cannot be taken away from the apartment as in traditional stores, but are delivered free of charge to a chosen address.

“We really want to keep Sézane digitally focused, however we are really excited that we can offer our customer an added retail experience with the first connected shop in France,” says founder Morgane Sezalory. “The apartment is an extension of [our customer’s] online experience. It’s always good to see the products first hand and experience the whole brand DNA in a boutique, but we can do so many [more] things with a website”.

Try before you click

One of the most discussed disadvantages of online shopping for fashion products is the lack of opportunity to touch, feel and try on. New York menswear brand Bonobos decided to tackle this and in doing so has redefined the use of its bricks and mortar retail space.




Launched as an online-only brand in 2007, it opened its first bricks-and-mortar space in 2012. Dubbed a Guideshop, shoppers could browse collections and try on different sizes and fits, but couldn’t buy product there and then, and were only able to purchase online via the brand’s website and have them delivered.

The response was so positive that Bonobos has since opened a further 20 Guideshops across America, with chief revenue officer Erin Ersenkal telling Drapers that Guideshop visitors now spend twice as much as those who only visit the brand’s online platform.

There have been other positives too: “Given we don’t sell product you can walk away with like traditional retail, we eliminate a lot of hassle such as a need to re-stock styles, sizes, and constantly merchandising a floor,” says Ersenkal. “What makes the concept unique is to shift the focus from managing the operations of the store to focusing on customer service. There are no bags, no checkout lines, and one of our Guides is completely dedicated to one customer.”

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