Local web retailers open brick-and-mortar outlets to bolster their brands

To expand their customer base and create brand awareness, more online stores are setting up brick- and-mortar spaces

Local e-commerce retailers are tip-toeing into the brick-and-mortar space, setting up physical locations for shoppers to view their wares, interact with staff and experience the brand.

Such stores, they say, help them snag less tech-savvy consumers, who then feel more confident about buying items on their websites. It also helps to build brand awareness.

At least six home-grown e-commerce sites have opened such stores in the past four years, including fashion brands In Good Company, Beyond The Vines, Collate The Label, Visual Mass, SocietyA and Ling Wu.

In October, e-commerce stalwart Love, Bonito will take the plunge by opening its first physical Singapore boutique, in Orchard Road.

The trend is happening elsewhere too. American eyewear brand Warby Parker and fashion label Everlane both started off online, but now have numerous brick-and-mortar stores where shoppers try on clothes and are immersed in the brands' aesthetics.

Amazon made headlines earlier this year when it opened its first bookstore in New York, with plans for other locations.

 

Having a physical presence allows businesses to build brand awareness and have face-to-face customer service, says Associate Professor Leonard Lee, Dean's Chair at the National University of Singapore Business School.

"Many consumers have a desire or even a need to physically examine clothing and other fashion items before buying them, so having a physical store could help attract such segments of customers and encourage purchase."

 

The future of retail, he adds, is unlikely to be purely e-commerce or brick and mortar.

"Ultimately, online fashion businesses may need to think carefully about how to best integrate online and physical channels to provide consumers with a streamlined and seamless multi-channel shopping experience."

 

For Ms Lyn Wong, 33, a vice-president in a bank, SocietyA's physical store in Ngee Ann City helped tip the scales. She was initially adverse to shopping on the multi-label store's e-commerce site as she did not like the idea of having to pay for the return shipping cost should an item not fit. She has since bought several items from the website, including a bomber jacket, a skirt and a shirt.

"I was happy with the service at the boutique, where the concierge manager made an effort to understand my preference and gave appropriate recommendations. With that and its free returns policy, it made me more confident to shop on its website."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2017, with the headline 'Web retailers get physical'. Print Edition | Subscribe