Piperlime Gets Physical With First Store

Sep 13, 2012

For well over a decade, chains have built a knowledge base on how to successfully extend a retail brand to the online world, but what do you do when you’re a web-only retailer designing your first physical store? Piperlime’s answer is to play off many of the features its online fans have come to love.

Piperlime is one of two Gap brands that began strictly online, but unlike the other — Athleta, which has its own line of activewear — Piperlime presented the challenge of merchandising numerous designer labels ranging from cheap-chic to pricey. Jennifer Gosselin, the brand’s general manager, quoted by Bloomberg, believes that no matter how loyal a brand’s following is online, a physical presence builds a proper relationship. "In terms of experiencing the brand, it’s the difference between having a relationship over e-mail versus one in person," she said. "It really does come to life here."

The here of which she speaks is Piperlime’s new 4,000 sq. ft. location on Wooster Street in New York’s chic SoHo neighborhood. The company used the occasion of Fashion’s Night Out on Sept. 6th to stage its opening. (That may have accounted for the "calm after the storm" feel to the store when we visited the next afternoon.) According to The Rack, Piperlime decided to explore a permanent physical outpost following a very successful pop-up experience during Fashion’s Night Out 2009.

In contrast to many boutiques in Manhattan, Piperlime is airy and the merchandise is given space to make a statement. Although the website includes offerings for men and kids, the store sticks to women’s apparel, shoes, jewelry and handbags. Labels include Milly, Fry, Citizens of Humanity, Tinley Road, Ash and Maison Scotch.

Shoes are a big star, displayed cleverly on a big, wrap-around show wall that demonstrates the brand’s "disproportionate love of shoes," according to a press release.

When beginning with an "endless aisle" online inventory, editing the mix is crucial, and there’s a sense that management took this challenge quite seriously. The store is built on sections reflective of those on the website. For example, there’s the "Girl On A Budget" area where "everything’s under $100," and tightly edited racks displaying picks from celebrity editors: Rachel Zoe and Olivia Palermo.

There’s also a seasonal section, "Color Clashing," which is one of the "Top Ten Fall Trends" borrowed from the website. Signage is simple to facilitate frequent changes.

Associates were attentive but not pushy with customers during the visit. A company news release talks about "kiosks throughout the store that link directly to Piperlime.com." We saw only one that was clearly positioned for customers, however. (Perhaps more are coming.) A second is set on a desk by the dressing rooms for use by associates.

Are there fresh lessons to be learned from online-only retailers now opening their own physical stores? Do you think techniques such as “Editor’s Picks” and seasonal recommendations will translate well into the physical world?

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6 Comments on "Piperlime Gets Physical With First Store"

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Max Goldberg
10 years 20 days ago

Successfully operating a brick and mortar store is quite different than operating the same store as Internet-only. When moving from cyberspace to physical space, it’s important to keep the feel of the brand in store layout and design, products and customer service.

Not all online stores will translate successfully into brick and mortar.

Marge Laney
10 years 20 days ago
Online retailers who move into the physical world need to remember that the customers who venture to their store are there to interact personally with the brand and their offerings. For the apparel retailer, that means the customer is there to make their buying decision by trying on clothes in the fitting room. Having the in-store experience mirror the online experience misses the opportunity completely. The in-store experience should capitalize on the opportunity to satisfy the customer’s needs immediately. All in-store technology should enhance personal connections that make the customer feel like the trip was worth their while. Virtual mirror and other AR technology are great inspiration and purchase validation tools for the customer. But, at the end of the day, no purchase decision is final until the try-on occurs either at home or in the fitting room. Getting the customer into the fitting room and keeping them there with service will increase conversion and decrease returns. Fitting room technology that enhances customer interaction and provides the associates control of the fitting room is where… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann
10 years 20 days ago

The concept of translating online style and success to a physical store is fresh and inspiring. We’ve spent so much time trying to ‘shoehorn’ and rationalize online concepts into the brick & mortar experience, it is innovative to see how this online brand is translating and expanding their brand development to the other senses.

I truly appreciate and agree with Ms. Gosselin’s comparison of further developing the customer relationship from an e-mail to a personal experience. There is definitely an tremendous advantage of assessing the successful aspects of the online shopping experience such as Editor’s Picks, top 10 this week, and recommendations and translating them into an in-store experience. The key here is to translate them to their physical equivalent and not simply copy them. Their concept may be relevant in the physical world, but it may be their activation that could be different. Just putting a screen up as a kiosk may not be the best way to achieve and translate the concept and its success.

Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
10 years 20 days ago

This is a terrific counter-balance to the article above. There is no “one way or the other.” Winning is about figuring out the best and most efficient method or combination of methods to satisfy changing consumer patterns.

Gene Detroyer
10 years 20 days ago

This is not a “retail store.” This is a showroom that also sells product. It is an advertising and promotion venue. It should not be operated or measured with traditional retail metrics. It should be used to build the brand that ultimately anyone can access “wherever, whenever and however they choose.” (See comments on Toys “R” Us discussion.)

Matt Schmitt
10 years 20 days ago

Piperlime, being a Gap brand, may not be a prime example of an online-only retailer opening a physical store. There are probably some inherent benefits and best practices they are able to leverage from their parent and sister companies.

That said, I don’t believe these locations (Piperlime and others) should be dismissed as purely promotional in nature. Gene’s comments indicate these locations should not be seen as a true retail location, but rather a way to build a brand that anyone can access “wherever, whenever, and however they choose.” But isn’t that true for all retailers now, whether they originated as physical or online?

The blurring of the lines between physical and online retailer continues and, utlimately, the effectiveness of brand engagement is really the driving competitive factor that counts.


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