Online-To-Offline: How Physical Retail Changed Everything For Bonobos

The menswear e-tailer swore it would never need brick-and-mortar stores. Now, it has 20 and counting — and a presence in Nordstroms across the country.

Bonobos, a menswear e-tailer that specializes in custom-fit pants, never intended to have brick-and-mortar stores. But in 2014, the company followed in the footsteps of online-to-offline pioneer Warby Parker, and opened a few locations — and the money came pouring in, according to a report in The New York Times.

“We said we would never be offline, and then, wait a second,” Andy Dunn, the co-founder and chief executive of Bonobos, told the Times. “We hit a big turning point. We realized offline really works.”

Two years later, Bonobos has 20 standalone stores in the U.S. and counting, as well as a presence in Nordstrom department store locations. Now that the company has gone “clicks-to-bricks,” it’s never going back. But what’s the reason behind the success?

The In-Store Angle

For a start, with its independent retail locations, Bonobos appears to have discovered the same advantages as fellow (former) e-tailers Tuckernuck and Blue Nile: There’s no substitute for the in-store experience.

As retail analyst Howard Tubin told The Chicago Tribune, “all these… e-commerce startups have realized, ‘What a great way to get customers.’ Open a store, let people touch and feel and try on your product, and then convert them to e-commerce [too].”

It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s a true one: Customers appreciate the in-store shopping experience because it provides something they just can’t get on Amazon. Whether it’s “extras” like personal styling or simply the opportunity to try on clothes without the hassle of shipping and returns, there are consumer advantages in physical retail.

Plus, even as the popularity of the word “omnichannel” wanes, 2015 was the year that it became an accepted concept that brands need to blend the online and offline world, keeping a coherent presence across channels and devices. Shoppers don’t live their lives in silos; they research products on desktop and mobile, and when it’s time to come to a store, the device isn’t left behind — smartphones are a primary shopping companion for research and comparisons. Stores that understand the multitude of ways that shoppers interact with both online information and physical products are more likely to capture their attention — and their dollars.

Discover Me

Secondly, Bonobos has an additional retail advantage in the form of its Nordstom partnership: The benefits in terms of discoverability are huge.

By establishing a presence in a well-known, more “traditional” store, Bonobos has a good opportunity to catch the attention of older customers who might not typically look to e-commerce for clothes shopping. And, on the other hand, the set-up benefits Nordstrom, too: Bonobos can bring in its typically younger fans, exposing them to other Nordstrom merchandise as well.

As e-tailers increasingly realize the benefits of having a physical presence — and the importance of “being omnichannel” — it’s likely that we’ll see a great deal more of these types of partnerships, as the “old” and “new” ways of doing retail continue to come together for mutual benefit.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.