Online shopping gets all the attention these days. But sometimes, there’s still no beating a physical store.
The British designer Lee Broom came to that realization last May after opening a monthlong pop-up shop in Manhattan’s SoHo filled with his furniture and light fixtures, including lamps made from hollowed-out marble tubes and cut crystal bulbs recalling cocktail glasses.
He had already been selling his products through his online store and about 180 retailers worldwide, including major online players like Lumens. But his temporary store in New York helped his sales in the United States jump by about 50 percent over the 12 months through early October.
“It went incredibly well, and massively exceeded our expectations,” Mr. Broom said. “People want to see the pieces in person, get the scale, look at the materials and touch them.”
So, last month, Mr. Broom opened his first permanent American outpost in an 800-square-foot storefront in SoHo, and plans to follow it up with a location in Los Angeles in the coming months.
He is far from alone. Rather than crushing physical stores, the rise of online shopping is, in many cases, encouraging the development of new and innovative retail shops.
Companies of all sizes that once sold primarily through multibrand retailers are building on their experience running online stores by opening direct-to-consumer brick-and-mortar locations. Established retailers are shifting their focus from basic transactions to offering compelling brand experiences and higher levels of personal service.
Design stores that once catered to professionals are welcoming independent consumers, as Houzz, Pinterest and Instagram give rise to a legion of do-it-yourself decorators. And even companies that started as online-only enterprises are increasingly opening physical stores.
To understand why, just follow the money.
Online sales in the United States will reach about $394 billion this year, according to estimates by the research and advisory firm Forrester Research, a number representing less than 12 percent of total retail sales, which the firm expects will total $3.4 trillion.
But web-influenced sales in physical stores (when a consumer researches a product on a smartphone, for instance, and then buys in a store) are expected to account for an additional $1.3 trillion, or about 38 percent of all retail sales.
“Stores are still vitally important,” said Fiona Swerdlow, a vice president and research director at Forrester Research. “But the influence of digital touchpoints is huge.”
A decade ago, most websites run by designers and manufacturers were essentially digital pamphlets comprising images, descriptions and specifications of products you could buy somewhere else. But the online store soon followed, where the maker could sell direct.
Now, pleased with becoming retail players while also establishing stronger relationships with their customers, many companies are taking it a step further by opening physical stores.
Herman Miller, a modern furniture giant founded in 1923, is opening its first permanent American direct-to-consumer retail store since 1967 (when it ran a small Textiles & Objects shop) on Nov. 22 in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park. The two-level 6,000-square-foot space will also include accessories from other manufacturers and vintage goods to present a complete lifestyle vision for the contemporary home. It follows the debut of Herman Miller’s online store six years ago.
With the online store, “what started as a relatively small experiment has grown very rapidly,” said Ben Watson, the executive creative director of Herman Miller. “The size of the business we do directly to consumers has been growing. That was a hint to us that there is a lot of untapped appetite for products from Herman Miller.”
Other companies are discovering the same thing. “In a lot of categories, you’re seeing a significant shift from wholesale, as a percentage of their total revenue, to direct channels,” said Al Sambar, a managing partner at the management consulting firm Kurt Salmon.
In the expectation that digital tools and social media will continue to drive more consumers to individual companies, while bypassing traditional multbrand retailers, “brands are building their capability to sell direct,” he said. “It’s also a way to have a personal relationship with the customer, and to have them be really loyal.”
The fashion designer Thakoon Panichgul, who once sold his collections through upscale retailers like Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman, switched exclusively to a direct-to-consumer model in August, with a new Thakoon online store and a chic SoHo boutique.
“We saw a shift in the way that the customer was shopping, or the way she wasn’t shopping anymore,” Mr. Panichgul said. “The customer was shopping online more, and questioning the price of everything. The designer also wasn’t able to control his own vision through and through. All of these components made me question the way we were doing business.”
At the same time, he began presenting collections in a see-now, buy-now format, where ready-to-wear pieces are available to purchase online or in the store immediately or soon after being presented on the runway. The strategy, which capitalizes on the immediacy of social media while reducing the risk of knockoffs, is shaking up an industry where a six-month lag between runway and retailer is common.
Many other brands, including Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Tom Ford and Burberry, have recently been experimenting with the same thing.
At Saks Fifth Avenue Downtown, the department store’s 86,000-square-foot women’s store at Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan, which opened in September, product displays are inspired by websites that encourage shoppers to browse. Where traditional department stores keep handbags separate from clothing, at Saks Fifth Avenue Downtown, an edited range of goods is organized by designer label, with handbags, ready-to-wear and jewelry commingling on a circular path intended to inspire surprise finds.
“We wanted to de-compartmentalize the department store,” said Marc Metrick, the president of Saks Fifth Avenue. “That’s not how she shops anymore.”
In some displays, “we lay things down flat on tables, just like you’d see on a website,” he added.
But Saks’s embrace of technology is about more than mere surface treatment. The company has rolled out applications from the retail technology company Salesfloor that enable online saks.com visitors to live-chat with a sales associate at a nearby physical store.
After browsing product suggestions online, shoppers can make an appointment to meet their sales associates in person, to continue shopping. And even after the in-person visit, the shopper can follow up with the very same sales associate again, online.
“Saks, overall, is transforming. We’re really pushing this all-channel experience,” which blends the digital and physical, Mr. Metrick said. “The goal is to keep that interaction going.”
Other stores embracing a similarly mixed approach include Rebecca Minkoff in SoHo and the Polo Ralph Lauren flagship on Fifth Avenue, which have smart touchscreen mirrors in fitting rooms that suggest coordinating pieces for items a shopper is trying on, enable alternate sizes to be summoned from staff and can send links to products via text message so customers can purchase them later, online.
At Brookfield Place, Saks is also offering highly personalized services, including its new Power Lunch program, which promises to deliver a style consultation, beauty treatment and lunch together in one hour. The service is free, except for the cost of products a consumer decides to purchase.
“We’re seeing this convergence where it’s the best of both worlds,” said Steven Barr, the United States retail and consumer leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “It’s centered around extraordinary technology and extraordinary customer service.”
Rather than treating online and in-person sales as two separate channels, he said, “We’re finally entering that state where we can say there is a total retail experience.”
Other retailers are focusing on offering shoppers a chance to try products in a way they can’t online. Pirch, a 32,000-square-foot kitchen and bath store that opened in SoHo in May, encourages customers to turn on fully functional faucets and showerheads or take in live cooking demonstrations, rather than merely looking at disconnected fixtures and appliances.
Sonos, the wireless-speaker company whose products are widely available through retailers like Amazon and Target, opened its first direct-to-consumer retail store in SoHo in July. Shoppers can stream their own choice of music to test different configurations of speakers in a series of private listening huts.
Many home-design showrooms were once the domain of professional designers and architects. Most homeowners either didn’t know they existed, or were purposely excluded. With the widespread availability of designer resources online, that has changed.
Showrooms are increasingly fielding requests from individual homeowners who want to buy direct, and many are opening street-level retail stores to become more accessible.
Poliform, an Italian manufacturer of streamlined kitchens, closets and furniture, has long had a showroom inside the A&D Building in Midtown Manhattan, where it catered largely to design professionals. But at the end of September, it opened a 10,000-square-foot street-level flagship store on Madison Avenue to have a larger retail presence.
While the A&D Building showroom remains, “it’s a destination for people who know we’re there, not really a retail location,” said Laura Anzani, the chief operating officer of Poliform USA.
The Madison Avenue store, which is designed to resemble an extravagant, enormous apartment, “is a big billboard,” Ms. Anzani said. “It’s totally different being on the street. Before the store was even open, people came in and bought things.”
Exquisite Surfaces, a wood-flooring, stone and tile company that was also previously in the A&D Building, moved into a street-level store in Manhattan’s Hudson Square neighborhood last month. The 5,000-square-foot space includes elements to make shoppers feel at home, like seating areas inspired by residential settings.
The British designer Tom Dixon opened an expanded 3,000-square-foot store in SoHo in July, after establishing his first 1,000-square-foot American retail store last November. Previously, Mr. Dixon, who produces sculptural copper, brass and chrome light fixtures as well as furniture and tabletop objects, ran a New York showroom for professional designers that was open by appointment only.
Perhaps one of the most surprising retail trends is the proliferation of physical stores opened by companies that started out as online-only enterprises.
M. Gemi began last year as a web-based, direct-to-consumer business selling its own line of high-end Italian-made shoes that cost about half as much as similar luxury goods. With shoes ranging from about $150 to $600 per pair, the company describes its prices as “postluxury.”
In September, it opened its first brick-and-mortar store in SoHo. “It’s to let her try shoes on, feel the fabric and experience the brand in a tactile way that she can’t experience digitally,” said Ben Fischman, the company’s chief executive and co-founder.
There is only minimal inventory in the store; the vast majority of purchases are shipped directly to a shopper’s home, just like online purchases. And if shoppers do not want to make a purchase on the spot, store staff can add items to their online shopping carts for later consideration.
“We want the in-store experience to really influence what your digital experience becomes,” Mr. Fischman said. “When she goes home and logs on, sitting there in her cart are the shoes she said she wanted to buy.”
M. Gemi follows in the footsteps of companies like the eyewear brand Warby Parker (whose latest store is due to open inside Grand Central Terminal this month) and the men’s wear brand Bonobos (which opened its fifth New York store in Midtown in September). Both started out as online retailers, but now have an extensive network of physical stores.
None of these stores carry inventory. Shoppers can try products on, but then place orders to have purchases delivered.
At Bonobos, “It was a really humbling discovery to learn that retail stores were going to be one of the core parts of what was originally conceived as a digital-only brand,” said Andy Dunn, the company’s chief executive, who describes his business as “digitally native.”
After opening fitting rooms at New York-based Bonobos’s headquarters in 2011, Mr. Dunn said, he was amazed at how they accelerated sales, and hatched the idea of the company’s so-called guideshops.
“The guideshops attract a really high-value customer,” Mr. Dunn said. “He spends more money, he’s more valuable in the long run, and he’s more engaged with more categories. He’s buying sweaters, suits, dress shirts and outerwear, in addition to our iconic better-fitting pants.”
Many new companies are now running with that model. AYR, a women’s fashion brand that Mr. Dunn helped start, opened a showroom on the eighth floor of 648 Broadway in NoHo in June, where customers can drop in or book a champagne-and-snacks try-on session with friends for $100, which can be used as credit toward purchases. Next year, AYR plans to open a street-level store.
Other digitally driven companies are opening physical stores that do have products in stock. AHA Front in Dumbo, Brooklyn, offers home and personal accessories, including sculptural ceramic vases and angular beer glasses. Pintrill in Williamsburg sells fashionably whimsical pins. And the outerwear brand The Arrivals is running a pop-up shop in SoHo through the end of this month.
Paradoxically, the rise of online shopping may just make this one of the most exciting times in recent memory for shoppers to get back out onto city streets.
Adidas Originals Classic street-style sneakers at a new flagship store. 115 Spring Street, 212-966-0954.
Aquatalia Weatherproof Italian footwear and handbags. 965 Madison Avenue, 646-677-5555.
Boglioli The Milanese fashion house’s first store in the United States, designed by Dimore Studio. 10 Bond Street, 646-870-8250.
Burton A new location for the pioneering snowboard brand, opening this month. 69 Greene Street, 212-966-8070.
M. Gemi A place to try on shoes from the online purveyor of Italian-made footwear. 120 Wooster Street, (212) 941-1601.
North Sails A flagship store for nautically inspired apparel from a company best known for its sails. 108 Fifth Avenue.
Rick Owens Muscular furniture and avant-garde fashion in a purist interior of concrete and white walls. 30 Howard Street, 212-627-7222.
R.M. Williams Leather boots, belts and apparel from the Australian brand, founded in 1932. 152 Spring Street, 212-219-3619.
Ted Baker A clothing store crossed with an art gallery, in partnership with Pop International Galleries. 117 Wooster Street, 212-226-2053.
The Arrivals A monthlong pop-up shop, running through the end of November, from the online outerwear brand. 39½ Crosby Street.
Vineyard Vines Martha’s Vineyard-inspired clothing with a touch of whimsy from a company with the smiling pink whale logo. Grand Central Terminal, 89 East 42nd Street, 212-297-0269.
AYR Studioshop Try-on space for jeans and minimalist women’s wear from the online brand. 648 Broadway, Suite 808, 917-675-7472.
Bergdorf Goodman A luminous, newly renovated main floor, designed with the architect Michael Newman. 754 Fifth Avenue, 800-558-1855.
Enfold Women’s ready-to-wear from Japan with a sense of relaxed simplicity. 411 Bleecker Street, 646-600-6011.
Moussy Premium Japanese denim for women, offering more than 26 styles of jeans. 474 Broome Street, 646-600-6012.
Pinko The first American boutique for the Italian women’s fashion brand, which has stores across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. 1058 Madison Avenue, 347-378-9430.
Saks Fifth Avenue Downtown A new 86,000-square-foot women’s store designed by Found Associates to have the appeal of a boutique. Brookfield Place, 225 Liberty Street, 646-344-6300.
Thakoon Women’s fashion by Thakoon Panichgul in a sleek space designed with Giancarlo Valle of SHoP Architects. 70 Wooster Street, 212-929-0700.
The Row Women’s fashion from Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen in a pared-down townhouse setting. 17 East 71st Street, 212-755-2017.
Bonobos The online men’s wear company’s fifth try-on store in New York. 488 Madison Avenue, 646-939-7834.
Orlebar Brown Tailored British swimwear and beach apparel for men. 451 Broome Street, 212-966-6379.
Stone Island A flagship store from the sporty Italian men’s brand. 41-43 Greene Street, 646-918-6549.
A/D/O A design shop within a new designer support center, scheduled to open this month. 29 Norman Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-218-5052.
AHA Front Curated home and personal accessories from the online retailer AHA. 147 Front Street, Brooklyn, 646-454-1110.
ALT Box A showroom and coffee shop from the textiles and home accessories company ALT for Living. 234 East 60th Street, 212-431-1000.
B&B Italia Sleek, modern furniture from Italy in a new location. 135 Madison Avenue, 212-889-9606.
Canvas Home Furniture and housewares, many with a handmade textural appeal. 426 Broome Street, 212-372-7706.
Exquisite Surfaces A street-level showroom designed by Commune for wood flooring, stone and tile. 95 Vandam Street, 212-355-7990.
Foscarini Sculptural Italian light fixtures in a new, larger store. 20 Greene Street, 212-257-4412.
Hawkins New York A Manhattan outpost for clean-lined modern home products from a brand based in Hudson, N.Y. 17 Eighth Avenue, 844-469-3344.
Herman Miller The first permanent American store from the modern furniture giant since 1967, scheduled to open Nov. 22. 251 Park Avenue South, 212-318-3977.
Lee Broom British furniture, tabletop accessories and light fixtures, including lamps made from hollowed-out marble. 34 Greene Street, 212-804-8477.
L’Objet Home accessories with luxurious appeal, like bronze-colored vases with the texture of crocodile skin. 370 Bleecker Street, 212-659-0316.
MoMA Design Store An overhauled shopping experience for the museum’s popular shop, courtesy of Lumsden Design and Gensler. 44 West 53rd Street, 212-767-1050.
Pirch A 32,000-square-foot hands-on kitchen and bath store for trying out fixtures and appliances. 200 Lafayette Street, 212-951-0696.
Poliform Streamlined kitchens, storage systems and furniture from the Italian brand in a new street-level store. 112 Madison Avenue, 212-672-0060.
Sarajo Antique textiles, costumes, art and jewelry collected around the world. 31 Howard Street, 646-370-6801.
Sennheiser High-fidelity German audio gear in a pop-up shop open through March. 134 Prince Street, 646-998-3081.
Sonos Sound-isolation huts for trying the company’s wireless speakers. 101 Greene Street, 917-768-0101.
Studio Oliver Gustav Antiques and contemporary pieces from the Copenhagen-based dealer. 11 Howard Street, 929-400-5225.
Tom Dixon A new, larger store from the British furniture, lighting and home accessories designer. 19 Howard Street, 212-228-7337.
Toto Shapely toilets, bathtubs and plumbing fixtures by way of Japan. 20 West 22nd Street, 917-237-0665.
Cartier The jewelry brand’s flagship mansion, newly renovated by the architect Thierry W. Despont. 653 Fifth Avenue, 212-446-3400.
John Hardy Jewelry made by Balinese artisans, scheduled to open Nov. 21. 118 Prince Street, 212-343-9000.
Monica Castiglione Strikingly creative jewelry from the Milan-based designer. 268 Court Street, Brooklyn, 347-703-0809.
Monica Vinader The first American store for the British jewelry brand, scheduled to open Nov. 21. 151 Spring Street, 855-753-5555.
Pintrill Colorful, statement-making pins. 231 Grand Street, Brooklyn, 718-782-1000.
Wempe Fine watches and jewelry in a store that has more than doubled in size. 700 Fifth Avenue, 212-397-9000.
Target A smaller-format store in Manhattan. 255 Greenwich Street, 917-438-2214.
Westfield World Trade Center Manhattan’s grand new shopping center in the World Trade Center Transportation Hub. 185 Greenwich Street, 212-284-9982.