Are offline experiences becoming more important to online performance?

Photo: Blenders Eyewear
Jul 02, 2019
Matthew Stern

Home essentials brand Parachute and sunglasses brand Blenders have both made their mark as online companies, but they’ve done a lot of offline work to get there. In a session at the 2019 Internet Retailer Conference and Expo (IRCE) in Chicago, Chase Fisher, founder of Blenders Eyewear and Luke Droulez, CMO of Parachute, explained the importance of weaving offline experience into online strategy to succeed with a digital brand.

“I think it’s important to note that while we all have our phones on us all day, every day, a lot of what we do still occurs offline,” said Mr. Droulez. “So, I think it’s important to create experiences and engagements that can then drive online activity, offline activity … kind of confirming the customer relationship.”

Mr. Fisher discussed the success the company has had partnering with Groove Cruise, a 72-hour, twice-yearly music event with dance music provided by 50 famous DJs. People who RSVP are invited to a Facebook group where they can vote on designs for sunglasses created exclusively for the event. Then VIP guests, DJs and other big-name influencer guests are sent product to wear on the cruise. By having the product woven into the physical experience of the cruise, it puts cruise attendees in the position of being social media advertisers. They spend 72 hours creating videos, Instagram posts and the like featuring the products which the company can then re-purpose. 

Mr. Droulez discussed the importance of offline marketing in the form of traditional advertising campaigns that provide a sense of comfort — as the brand’s product does — in places where people are otherwise uncomfortable, such as on subway commutes or stuck in traffic.

Both brands have begun opening physical outlets as well, a strategy which many have begun to find is a more important part of the e-commerce equation than it had been in the past. Rather than larger footprints, they’ve focused on small boutique store locations, which represent the brand’s values and fit the culture of the local community.

“For our audience, that tactile in-person experience is what they need,” said Mr. Droulez.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think a physical presence is more important for digital brands today than it was 5 years ago? What are the keys to success for online brands looking to develop an offline presence?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"If you don’t have a physical presence to work with the customer, you’re extremely disadvantaged."
"Online brands looking to develop offline presences will need to match the level of convenience and simplicity that online provides."
"It’ll always be important to go out and actually talk to your customers. I don’t care how much business you do online..."

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19 Comments on "Are offline experiences becoming more important to online performance?"

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Paula Rosenblum

I think a physical presence has ALWAYS been important. This was true during the first internet boom 20 years ago, and remains true today. We didn’t realize at the time that it’s also the most profitable channel. That was counter-intuitive.

But putting your brand face on the planet remains a very important activity.

Joel Goldstein

As flooded as social media has become, the price per click for advertising on facebook and instagram has skyrocketed. When launching a new brand, old school guerrilla marketing like street teams are looking more and more viable as brands can get their product to be tasted and experienced first hand instead of used as click bait.

Online retail has become so much more competitive than in-store retail, we are seeing the shift from physical brands trying to get online to now online brands trying to get in-store.

Ray Riley

More important than five years ago? Probably not. Distribution is the name of today’s game, and if you don’t have a physical presence to work with the customer- you’re extremely disadvantaged. The offline transaction is 8x larger, but is heavily influenced by online channels and vice versa. This requires a solid generalist retail operator who can get the first fifteen stores up and running in a disciplined fashion with respect to VM, HR, and training.

Brandon Rael

A physical storefront, showroom, pop up, store within a store, flea market, farmers market, or merely a physical presence matters more than ever. Considering that we are now relentlessly digitally connected, human beings by nature are social beings, and enjoy in-person experiences, engaging with other people and creating new memories.

Offline experiences are even more important than ever and act as a natural extension of the brand. Every engagement between your brand and the customers will translate to sales across every channel.

Doug Stephens captured where things are evolving to with this quote. “With the vast majority of our daily and weekly needs simply coming to us as necessary, the role and purpose of retail space will no longer be principally to sell products. Rather, these spaces will act as living, breathing physical portals into brand and product experiences.”

Michael Decker
Michael Decker
Vice President, Marketing Strategy
1 year 11 days ago

As retail marketers, we have to remember first and foremost that we are marketing to social human beings. People want their go to retailers and retail brands available to them across many touch points in a seamless and completely channel agnostic way. The days of eCommerce “pure plays” are quickly waning as these brands discover that their customers would like to meet them in the “real” world. And then tweet them later!

David Dorf

Experiential marketing is a great way to establish and publicize a brand and help it stand apart from others. Meetups, concerts, picnics, training sessions, etc. are all great ways to engage with customers in a meaningful, lasting way. The ultimate goal is to transcend overt selling and become part of a consumer’s lifestyle.

Rich Kizer

Interesting discussion. At Global Shop, Georganne and I looked for all subtle marketing/communication changes we could assemble thru conversations and vendor driven programs. Most interesting was the play Melissa Gonzales and her panel discussion made. Compelling, because they made the case that at a certain point in their online sales history, it made abundant sense to open brick and mortar stores … but in areas closely reflecting their already loyal demographic, not space that just happened to be available in a center. Showing powerpoint examples of their brick and mortar stores, they demonstrated how the stores resonated the vibe of their online presence and products. And they all claimed success in the brick and mortar world.

Doug Garnett

They aren’t “becoming” more important — they’ve always been critical. Rather, these brands are coming to see what many of us already knew.

I found this sentence particularly funny — while it accurately reflects the silliness of digital efforts: “while we all have our phones on us all day, every day, a lot of what we do still occurs offline.”

“A lot” of what we do? The vast majority of life is an offline experience — it’s called living. Sadly, the digital echo chamber seems to struggle to believe something can be real if it’s not digital.

Ryan Mathews

More important than the ancient days of 2014? I’m not so sure. Will it be more important by 2024? No question in my mind. I think that for certain online brands — particularly those catering to the high-end luxury and/or youth markets — experience is all part of how you build community and brand buzz. It worked in these markets for non-digital brands. After all, look what the Vans tour did for skateboarding shoes and the success of pop-ups. As to the keys, know your target consumer and give her/him what she/he wants in a physical and/or physical/digital experience. This is still retailing after all, no matter where or how the transaction occurs.

Jeff Sward

Engaging the 5 senses, all of them, is what the experience is all about. “…tactile, in-person…” is the perfect summary. Physical presence was always important. Apps and websites made ecommerce feel easy for a while. We now know that stores and websites magnify and multiply each other … for better or worse.

Lee Peterson

It’ll always be important to go out and actually talk to your customers. I don’t care how much business you do online, talking to the people that buy your goods is an experience you just can’t get from any quant OR quals study. Seems obvious, but I believe it has been the downfall of many retailers. That’s one reason why any retailer, brick or click, will always need physical stores.

Steve Dennis

They are not becoming more important, there is just growing awareness. The first iteration of catalog merchants opening stores (Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, Eddie Bauer, et al) demonstrated the critical interaction between D2C and brick & mortar decades ago. Those of working at physical store-dominant retailers (in my case at Sears and Neiman Marcus) during the initial growth periods of e-commerce understood that digital drives physical and vice versa. So it’s no surprise that the digitally-native vertical brands that are opening stores are experiencing the same phenomenon.

The only reason that one could argue that offline experiences are becoming more important to online performance is that many of the pure-play e-commerce brands are seeing diminishing returns from their digital strategies and are now becoming more reliant on their brick & mortar strategies to drive overall brand performance.

Georganne Bender

Two things stood out for me at a panel at last week’s GlobalShop: 1.) Once an online retailer hits 10 million in sales it hits a wall and has to open a physical location to attract new customers, and 2.) customers spend 20% more in a physical store then they do when they only shop the brand online.

After so many years of praising online over brick and mortar the tide has turned. We need both types of retailers, but both need to evolve. B&M retailers support community events, and run fun in-store events that may or may not involve a sale. People like to shop in stores, and people crave new experiences. Online retailers can’t compete with the advantage of coming face to face with customers. If they stay solely online the run the risk of becoming a fancy vending machine. They have no choice but to bring their brand experience to people in real life.

Ricardo Belmar

Well, of course, a physical presence is important! Having a physical presence, whether a store, popup, store-in-a-store, etc, consumers want to know your product is real and that that they can interact with it. Sure, some product types are true commodities and consumers don’t care and will just buy it online, but for most products, physical discovery rules the day. Plus, what we are learning now is that not only is physical vs online more profitable, ultimately you hit a ceiling as an online-only concern — you need that physical presence to reach high growth potential.

Heidi Sax

Physical retail has always been, and will continue to be critical to a customer’s connection to a brand. It’s hard for me to see how this bigger question ties in to the offline experience described in the article, which is part of a marketing strategy/PR move. I’d be interested to know whether it had a meaningful impact on actual product sales. Online brands looking to develop an offline presences will need to match the level of convenience and simplicity that online provides. Warby Parker’s stores are a perfect example of the ultimate goal.

Mark Price

More and more, online brands are discovering that offline interaction with their customers is critical to their success. Whether it is catalogs from online retailers, pop-up physical locations or PR events, online brands are seeing incremental sales from physical interaction with their customers. As the article notes, online customers do not live online alone; a specific segment of online customers (usually those who are truly multi-channel) respond to a variety of engagement stimuli and are critical to a brand’s success.

Ananda Chakravarty

Most of the experts on this thread have covered the key differences in offline-online experiences. I’ll add another twist: the physical presence is important because the online presence is highly volatile. The online experience is a hop, skip, and a click away from “poof!” Gone. It still takes a few minutes to walk out of a store and out of view of a parking lot sign.

Bob Andersen

As has been dutifully noted, most experiences are offline including when we buy, as 90% of retail purchases are still made at brick and mortar stores. The best way to create an offline presence (other than offline ads) is getting your product into a retail store – which can be difficult to do. Opening a pop-up shop is one way to get your product out there. With so much excess retail space out there, pop-up shop leases are usually for a shorter term and cost much less than traditional retail leases. Plus, pop-up shops are wildly popular with Millennials who are now the largest segment of the workforce.

James Tenser
In the Incredible Dissolving Store, digital interactions are now pervasive. But shoppers still want to interact with physical goods and experience the art of merchandising and the thrill of discovery — when it suits them. Every shopping occasion, every meander to purchase is unique. Only a store can offer a “buy now use now” purchase experience. Only a store can engage the senses of smell and touch. Digital substitutes may displace some store encounters some of the time, but they will not replace them. The creators of upstart online brands seem often to discover these truths after they score some initial success with a slice of the consumer market. They they accept investment and need to grow further. Suddenly a physical presence in the market starts to look more valuable as both a marketing statement and a place to move more goods. Surprise! They’ve been retailers all along. Each retailer and channel is likely to find its physical/digital equilibrium over time and that day seems to be approaching rapidly now. Stores are definitely changing, and… Read more »
"If you don’t have a physical presence to work with the customer, you’re extremely disadvantaged."
"Online brands looking to develop offline presences will need to match the level of convenience and simplicity that online provides."
"It’ll always be important to go out and actually talk to your customers. I don’t care how much business you do online..."

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